People keep asking me ‘what’s happening with the leisure centre?’ and I would love to be able to answer the question with dates and specifics but, unfortunately, there isn’t yet much tangible progress. Along with the Deepings other Independent councillors I continue to ask questions and sometimes I get useful progress reports.
There are now at least two different aspects to the fundamental questions of what’s happening and when? The first concerns the proposed new Deepings Leisure Centre promised by Coun Matthew Lee (Con), back in October 2017 and the second concerns the much needed replacement for the all-weather pitch which was condemned in December.
The two issues are inextricably linked in terms of planning and funding although it is hoped that the new all-weather pitch will arrive sooner than the new leisure centre.
All Weather Pitch
At its budget meeting last week (Mon 2nd March) the issue was discussed by the Council who agreed to put aside £200,000 towards the cost of replacing the pitch. Unfortunately, the cost of an all-weather pitch is likely to cost a minimum of £400,000 and the figure is likely to be even higher, possibly £850,000, depending on the preferred playing surface.
The discussion was reported by the Stamford Mercury as “Deepings football teams to benefit from new playing surface” but, as ever, don’t believe everything you read in the papers;
[DeepingDo editor’s note: Since first publishing this blogpost, the online story in the Mercury has been adapted after ‘clarification’ from SKDC].
There are at least three aspects of the Mercury’s report which are inaccurate or give a false impression. (For the benefit of the tape, the errors are not necessarily the fault of the journalists who are, after all, just trying to record what politicians say at public meetings.
The first mistake is the assertion that an agreement has been reached with the Football Foundation (FF) in which the Council will contribute £200,000 and the FF will give a grant of £650,000. This sounds great and if it happens I will be the first to take back everything I said about the disproportionate amount of money sloshing around the football community, from corporate sponsorships and TV rights, compared to almost every other kind of sport. However, after the meeting a spokesperson said: “SKDC is in the early stages of discussions with the Football Foundation regarding a funding application to provide a 3G pitch in Deeping St James. The council has set aside £200,000 in matched funding, should an application be successful.”
Obviously, if the FF provides the lions’ share (you could say the three lions’ share?) of the funding then the pitch will be designed predominantly for footballers and therefore the potential use of the pitch for other sports including hockey will be very limited. Competitive hockey will be impossible although it is plausible that some hockey training be possible depending on the specification of the pitch.
The Mercury reports that “England Hockey did not want to contribute to the cost as another pitch was available less than two miles away”. This, I believe, is a correct report of what was said by a Conservative cabinet member at the budget meeting; unfortunately it isn’t true. Firstly, England Hockey would be delighted to contribute to the cost but unfortunately they don’t have any money to contribute. Hockey matches are rarely televised, England Hockey receives no sponsorship from bookmakers and consequently the sport doesn’t have as much money as football. Secondly, no-one from England Hockey suggested funding would be withheld because “as another pitch was available less than two miles away” because there is no such pitch! The Bourne Deeping Hockey Club (which has been established since the 1920s) currently trains in exile in Peterborough, mostly at Arthur Mellows College which is four miles from Deeping and occasionally at pitches even further from Bourne and the Deepings. The pitch at Arthur Mellows is in a school and therefore has limited availability, especially during school holidays which would otherwise be a great time to run junior hockey coaching sessions.
It would be great for footballers in the Deepings, especially the very successful Deepings United FC, if the football foundation came forward with sufficient funding to provide a pitch. However, when deciding how, where and when to provide a pitch (or pitches) the council must take on board the needs of other sports including hockey and rugby. A standard 3G football pitch is only suitable for football, light rugby training and, bizarrely, lacrosse. A standard sand-based hockey pitch can also be used to play netball, football, rugby training, cricket, tennis etc (I’m not sure about lacrosse!). Given the facility will, presumably, continue to serve the 1,500+ pupils at the Deepings School, it would be good to have facilities for more than one sport. NB In case you’re wondering, I understand the school has no funding for enhancing outdoor leisure facilities at the moment.
During yesterday’s Budget Speech, Charncellor Rishi Sunak announced he was allocating “£30m a year to improve PE teaching… along with £8m for the Football Foundation’s scheme to build new pitches for around 300,000 people to play on”. If each pitch costs £800,000 then that’s enough funding for only 10 pitches nationwide. Big deal!
The location of the new Deepings pitch(es) will depend partly on the design and location of the new leisure centre. It would be daft to spend half a million pounds on a new pitch only to find that has to be removed to make way for a a new leisure centre so, at the very least, we need agreement of where, on the agreed site, the leisure is going to be built….
The New Leisure Centre
The lastest news from SKDC on the leisure centre is as follows:
“As part of the council’s wider feasibility work into enhancing leisure facilities across the district, the Linchfield Road site has previously been identified as the preferred site for a new development. Negotiations are, therefore, progressing with the various landowners in a bid to secure the site.
“The negotiations will need to be finalised, and the results of the feasibility work assessed, before any firm proposals can be put forward, either in respect of the leisure centre or the artificial pitch.
“It will then be important that local residents and stakeholders are fully consulted on proposals before any firm decisions can be made.”
So, to put it another way, the new leisure centre will be ready when:
- Negotiations with the landowners (and land users) need to be finalised. They have been going on for over 8 years but the opportunity of a new leisure centre has focused attention and I believe the necessary formal documents are almost ready to be signed.
- Feasibility work has been completed and assessed (for sites across South Kesteven)
- Firm proposals have been put forward
- Local residents and stakeholders have been consulted
- A business plan has been agreed
- Capital funding has been allocated (approx £15m is said to be required)
- Planning permission has been applied for, consulted on and agreed
- At least one procurement exercise has been completed
- The building has been constructed.
I have some experience of local authority building procurement and construction projects but I will let you make your own guesses about how long this will take!
The agenda for next week’s SKDC Cabinet meeting suggests that in just a month’s time there will be a meaningful decision relating to the “detailed business plans” relating to leisure centres.
Don’t get too excited about this. The Cabinet workplan for September had similar aspirations but as with scrutiny group workplans, the ‘due dates’ bear no relation to actual progress.
On the bright side, there is still genuine commitment by most, probably all, Councillors to improving leisure facilities across SKDC. Furthermore council officers are also very committed and have been candid in conversations with me about the hurdles and the opportunities surrounding our leisure facilities. For example, it is pretty clear now that the promised new Stamford Leisure Centre will not happen in the foreseeable but the Deepings Leisure Centre is near the top of everyone’s priority list.
Rome wasn’t built in a day!
If you have comments, suggestions or concerns about the impact of the new Leisure Centre you can respond to this post, contact me or, if you prefer, e-mail SKDC officers directly using firstname.lastname@example.org
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I still have doubts if it will happen
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