THE £38million sporting village being built for Basildon Council promises an impressive list of features, but furious residents have been counting its cost to their communities.

With a 50m-long swimming pool that can be split into two 25m pools, a large sports hall, gymnastics centre, fitness suite and cafe, the new complex is due to open in April.

Olympic teams that may want to hire out the sporting village before the 2012 London Games will be able to use its facilities to prepare for athletics, swimming, fencing, gymnastics, judo and handball.

But while the Gloucester Park venue is impressive, it is a costly venture.

About £13.6million of the £38million price tag will be paid by Government and Essex County Council money while Basildon Council has also taken out a £5.25million loan.

The remaining £19million is being raised through the sale of council-owned land to house builders and this has prompted angry responses from residents, who are spearheading several campaigns.

Last year the council sold Markhams Chase Leisure Centre, in Leinster Road, Laindon, and the former home of South Essex Gymnastics Centre, in Cranes Farm Road, Basildon, to builder Bellway for £7.9million.

Many residents believe they are losing precious open space where they can relax for free on their doorstep, in return for a facility they will have to drive to and pay to use.

Plans for the sporting village were first discussed in 2003.

Basildon Council leader Tony Ball said shortly after the Tory party took control of the council in 2002, it realised the council’s current crop of sports facilities desperately needed investment.

But Mr Ball said the council wanted to avoid the long-term debt of taking out huge loans to pay for new buildings, while also making sure residents are left with some local land for leisure.

Mr Ball said: “We had the choice of borrowing, but decided it wasn’t the best option.

“Consider the council’s history with the Towngate Theatre, which meant that for about 20 years Basildon Council was in debt, paying for the theatre between 1987 and 2007.

“In Kent View Road we’re taking about 50 per cent of the field, but that doesn’t include the wooded area.

“In Pound Lane and Northlands Park we’re only taking a very small percentage of the park.”

The sporting village will be managed by private firm Community Solutions for Leisure for 30 years.

During those three decades the council will remain in control of the centre’s pricing and the firm must keep it properly maintained before handing back the keys at the end of the contract.

But Phil Rackley, deputy Labour leader, believes the council is making a big mistake by selling off assets.

Mr Rackley said: “When the council first raised these plans, it was only talking about selling off Markhams Chase and Cranes Farm Road.

“Since then it has spotted a big funding gap and all these other sites have come up, so people have got very angry about it.

“Not only is the sporting village going to take up room in Gloucester Park, now the council is having to sell off other bits of park to pay for it.

“The sporting village is going to be run by a private company, so surely it will have some say over the charges.

“Its facilities mean it will probably be used for regular regional events, so we don’t even know how people will be able to use it.”

Now a full council meeting has been called for next Monday when councillors will discuss how to pay the outstanding £19million.