Schools have delivered a resounding snub to Sutton’s controversial Life Centre, leaving taxpayers faced with a hefty bill to support the project.

The life skills centre, which should cost Sutton residents nothing, needs at least 48,000 pupils – about 450 schools – to turn a meagre £9,500 profit.

But with the opening just weeks away, dismal early booking figures reveal the council has only booked 42 schools – just 2,780 pupils – leaving a £190,000 bill to finance its first seven months.

Only 11 of Sutton’s 60 schools have signed up to visit the £8m futuristic facility.

The new detail emerged after Monday’s Sutton Council executive meeting, in which Conservative opposition leader Graham Whitham questioned the council over its “Millennium Dome”.

Speaking after the meeting Tory councillor Tim Crowley said: “They must have been working towards a business plan, which is now proven to be incompetent.

“If they put this project before the Dragons’ Den judges they would have been straight down those stairs.

“It is either a huge leap of faith or a hugely idiotic financial plan.”

Lord Graham Tope, executive councillor for leisure and libraries, said the figures were “disappointing”, but said he had “faith” bookings would pick up.

Coun Tope said: “The take-up by the schools is disappointing so far. One reason for this is that it is actually a difficult concept to explain.

“It is compared with the junior citizenship scheme, but it is vastly different.”

Executive papers state work is “in hand” to increase the number of schools and external organisations visiting the centre by “more effective marketing and promotion of the facilities once the building becomes operational”.

The Life Centre, in Sutton Common Road, will house an indoor street resembling a movie set and a multi-media studio, where 360 degree screen projections can be depicted on the walls.

The proposed “unique learning environment”, which will also house a library, a climbing wall and an eco-garden project, is pipped to be the first of its kind in the UK.

When the project was first announced in 2008, the council said it expected to keep its contribution to below £4m, with the rest to come from Government grants and funding.

Last March, then head of the safer Sutton partnership service Warren Shadbolt said a feasibility study identified “an overwhelming demand and the schools will use it in excess of capacity”.

But in February this year, the 2010-11 budget showed taxpayers already face £650,000 bill to cover costs.

In 2009, council papers showed the centre would need about 48,000 visitors a year to make about £9,500 net profit.

A projection of a minimum of 21,000 visitors showed the project would stumble on a £156,542 annual net deficit.

The report comes as current marketing manager Andrew Brown prepares to leave his job.

Coun Tope said Mr Brown’s contract had expired, and added he had done a “good job”.

Coun Tope said the Life Centre business plan was currently under review and would be presented to the executive in November.

A council spokesman said: “Now the centre is near completion, its marketing will increase.

“Tours have only just started and feedback from visitors has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The council is in the process of making £30m of savings, so we can continue to protect and invest in our most important frontline services, such as education. The Life Centre forms a vital part of that “The benefits of more respectful, better behaved and better protected children are difficult to quantify in purely financial terms.”

The council has invited Sutton residents to visit the Life Centre when it opens its doors to the public this weekend, as part of the Open House London event.