Basildon’S Sporting Village is on target to clock up more than a million visitors in its first year – many more than council bosses had hoped for.

When it opened last April, officials predicted the controversial £38million swimming pool and sports centre complex would attract 600,000 in its first 12 months.

In practice, the centre, in Gloucester Park, achieved that milestone last autumn, with an average of 87,500 people a month using it – the council was predicting 50,000 a month.

Basildon Council leader Tony Ball, said he was delighted the centre’s popularity had surpassed expectations, in the face of critics who cast doubts over the sacrifices made to pay for it to be built.

He added: “We are on course to reach a million by May 1, which is excellent as our prediction was about 600,000 visitors in the first year.

“We always knew that it would be well used, but you’ve always got that doubt in the back of your mind.

“This shows how the people of Basildon have embraced it and so have people from further afield.”

The Sporting Village, run for the council by a company called Everyone Active, offers facilities including a 50m Olympic-standard pool, an athletics stadium, gymnastics hall, eight badminton courts, a 100-machine fitness suite, an indoor climbing wall and 17 outdoor football pitches.

There was controversy and anger from residents and political opponents when the Tory council announced it planned to sell off several other sporting facilities and fields to help pay for the centre.

Since they opened, the Sporting Village’s facilities have attracted elite athletes from across the world, including the Indian gymnastics team, which trained there ahead of last year’s world championships, and several British table tennis teams.

The Japanese Olympic swimming team will train in the centre’s pool during the Olympic Games this July and August.

Children using the leisure centre at the same time will be taught Japanese greetings to make the 35-strong team feel welcome. The Olympic Torch will stop off at the centre on July 6 on it’s pre-Games tour of the country.

Mr Ball said: “The people of Basildon will be able to watch elite athletes using the same facilities as them, which will be fantastic.”

Several local sports clubs are now based at the Sporting Village, including South Essex Gymnastics Club, High Sports Group indoor climbing club, Basildon Trampoline Club, Phoenix Karate Club and five-a-side football leagues.

Demand for fitness classes has also surpassed expectations.

The number of sessions offered every week has risen from 47 last April, to almost 70.