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Leisure Statement - July 2017

In our corporate strategic plan we committed ourselves to producing a leisure strategy that would determine the future of our two leisure centres and the three joint use pools owned by two local schools and Herts County Council. This work was undertaken as part of the Council's preparation to re-tender the leisure contract, which is due to end in December 2018.

We have been on this journey for over 12 months and have kept an open mind about the possible outcomes. In 2016, we identified the key issues affecting the future of centres, these are:

  • Ageing facilities

  • Deteriorating facilities and capital investment requirements

  • Increased population, particularly in Bishop's Stortford

  • Changing leisure trends resulting in demand for different activities and higher customer expectations

  • Demand for existing activities to be delivered in different ways, for example the increasing popularity of all-weather floodlit pitches

  • Increased revenue support for ageing facilities and maintenance expenditure

  • Joint Use facilities are subject to significant financial risk arising from the potential loss of Education Funding Agency (EFA) contribution.

We took action on this information to ensure that we can provide a sustainable and attractive leisure offer across the District. We conducted a detailed appraisal of options using a number of studies and national guidance to determine future provision, key areas looked at were:

  • Population growth and demographics

  • Supply and demand

  • Costs

  • Current and projected performance

  • Travel times

As a result of this work the proposals considered by the Council on the 18th July 2017 were:

  • The provision of a newly built leisure centre to replace Grange Paddocks in Bishop's Stortford.

  • The extension and refurbishment of Hartham Leisure Centre in Hertford

  • Investment at Ward Freman in Buntingford to upgrade the centre with the option of a gym.

  • A public consultation on the future of Fanshawe Pool and Gym and Leventhorpe Pool and Gym.

It became clear during our work that the current mix of facilities across the district is no longer sustainable in terms of costs and meeting future demand. We have put forward these proposals after looking very carefully at every aspect of leisure provision in East Herts.

We are confident that with these solutions we are able to accommodate the demand now and in the future, and attract a competent leisure contractor to help achieve our ambitions. In order for us to re-tender the leisure contract we need to be clear on our proposals to ensure we receive cost effective bids. These proposals have been taken through the Council's Overview and Scrutiny meeting (13th June) and the Executive (27th June).

While developing our proposals we considered options for the joint use pools with schools:

  • Leventhorpe Pool and Gym (at Leventhorpe School) in Sawbridgeworth

  • Fanshawe Pool and Gym (at Chauncy School) in Ware

Both facilities come with the risk of the potential loss of EFA funding, which contributes towards 40% of the operating costs. We understand that this contribution is currently secured until August 2019 and schools are awaiting further information about the future of this funding.

Leventhorpe Pool and Gym

Leventhorpe Pool and Gym is situated on the same site as the Leventhorpe Leisure Centre, which is also owned by the school and currently run by another provider. Having two separate facilities on the same site does not provide the best return for investment and operational expenditure.

Based on the current membership and the local competition, there is very little additional demand for fitness, so improving or expanding the offer at this site would provide little overall benefit. Leventhorpe is also within a 15 minute drive time to Grange Paddocks and, for residents further south, it is only a 15 minute drive to Harlow Leisurezone.

Having explored investment in this facility it was projected that usage will fall from 66,663 in 2016 to 46,664 in a mature year when the new Grange Paddocks has been built and is working well operationally.

For the level investment, continued capital costs and the projected decrease in customer visits, we are proposing that the most viable option for the district council is to not make a major investment in this facility and seek to withdraw our management of the site, after a newly built Grange Paddocks is completed and there is significant migration of customers from Leventhorpe to Grange Paddocks. We do not envisage this taking place before 2022. We would therefore continue to manage Leventhorpe Pool and Gym until a time became appropriate to withdraw. We will hold a public consultation to review all options for Leventhorpe Pool and Gym, with a report in October to detail the findings.

Fanshawe Pool and Gym

In terms of Fanshawe Pool and Gym, to ensure it can meet the future demands of the area, it would require approximately £1.2m of capital investment. This is a significant amount of funding to consider for an asset that is not owned by the district council and one that comes with the risk of potential loss of EFA funding. Though it is currently performing well, it will require significant repairs and maintenance as the building ages. For the level of investment, it is anticipated that customer visits are projected to increase from 121,016 in 2015 to 131,257 in mature year (once investment is completed and facility is operating well). Compared to other facilities, this increase in customer visits is not significant against the level of investment. There is also local competition, including three private gyms and a public facility, customers could migrate to these, as well as the newly developed Hartham Leisure Centre, which is a 13 minute drive. We have concluded that investment in Fanshawe is not a viable option for us either. We do not anticipate the work at Hartham leisure centre to be completed before 2022 and therefore we will continue to manage the facility at Fanshawe Pool and Gym until a time became appropriate to withdraw. Again, we will hold a public consultation to review the options for Fanshawe Pool and Gym, with a report in October detailing the findings.

It is important to remember that despite these proposals, there is always the risk of the EFA funding being withdrawn prior to a new Grange Paddocks being built or Hartham being refurbished. The district council would not be in a position to fund educational use of the facility as it will be acting outside of its legal parameters. Equally, schools would not be in a position to fund such a facility within their own budget; schools act as a conduit for the EFA funding from government to the district council.

The council is committed to working with the two schools to agree a way forward. We are in regular contact with both schools and depending on the schools priorities, a range of possible outcomes would be explored including:

  • The procurement of another provider

  • The development of a community trust/ body

  • Sponsorship from local businesses

  • An alternative use for the site

The council is mindful that community pools are valued by local people and consequently this is a difficult decision. The way that people gain access to facilities has changed significantly since the swimming pools were built in the 1970's. The age of the facilities and anticipated changes in government funding mean that the council has had to make hard choices in terms of capital investment.

We care about the health and wellbeing of our residents, which is why we are looking to invest £22m on a brand new leisure centre in Bishop's Stortford, a further £7.1m to upgrade Hartham Leisure Centre in Hertford and £880k to upgrade the swimming pool at Ward Freman in Buntingford. We are investing in facilities that see over 80% of our customer visits.

The council has agreed to an investment of £30m for leisure centre development at the meeting on 18th July 2017. The key decision at this point in time is the allocation of capital investment to inform the procurement of a new leisure contract. No planning applications have been submitted at this point in time.

The council has also agreed to a public consultation as it was felt to be beneficial to further investigate the options for Fanshawe Pool and Gym and Leventhorpe Pool. Details of how to take part in the consultation will be available in due course.