Update on the proposed new Deepings Leisure facilities – March 2020

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.

Deeping Ladies top the league!

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!

Deepings School Fields
Sunset over the Deepings School Fields.

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 enhancingleisure@southkesteven.gov.uk

Meanwhile, why not ‘like’ or ‘share’ this post?

Report to Market Deeping Town Council – February 2020

Report to MDTC Full Council 12th February, 2020
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Deeping Shorts – Film Festival

‘Deeping Shorts’ – a short festival of short films – has held two Saturday evening cinema screenings with two more to go (15th and 22nd February). The screenings have been well attended and well received. Tickets are £5 from Stamford Arts Centre or at Open Door Baptist Church on the night.

Leisure Centre / All Weather Pitch

News about the proposed Deepings Leisure Centre and the future of the condemned All Weather Pitch has failed to yield any concrete proposals (nor proposals for concrete). At Full Council, the new Portfolio Holder, Cllr Barry Dobson stated that a Working Party would be formed with representation from the 3 Deepings Independent Councillors. By the time of the Finance Committee a week later, this Working Party had been extended to include two Deeping Conservatives. A few minutes later, it was explained that the Working Party would be an overarching group for all Leisure Facilities in South Kesteven. When I asked for clarification, the Finance Committee was told there will be more than one Working Party. I later asked Cllr Dobson for written clarification of the roles, purpose and composition of the working party (or parties). A week later and I am still waiting.

Cllr Dobson also mentioned that nothing would be decided about Leisure Centres until he had visited the sites personally to see what was needed. This is slightly confusing given that the council has commissioned leisure professionals an architects to conduct feasibility studies at a cost of more than £250,000.

14/01/2020         Budget – Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee            

Lots of talk about the Conservative’s Pie-in-the-Sky thinking for next year’s expenditure.

16/01/2020   Rural and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee

I am pleased to say the Communities Committee agreed to implement some of the measures recommended by the ‘Stop the Knock’ campaign which I had brought to their attention.

I am less pleased to say that they rubber-stamped proposals to ‘rationalise the face-to-face customer service provision’ in Stamford and the Deepings. This effectively means closing the SKDC offices at the Deepings Community Centre and at Maiden Lane in Stamford.

There is a consultation about the plans to close the Stamford and Deeping SKDC offices. The deadline is 20th February.

30/01/2020   Council

The Council meeting began with a silence in respectful memory of former Chair of SKDC, Cllr Peter Speigl and former Chair of the world’s longest running radio panel show and much-loved Grantham born entertainer, Nicholas Parsons CBE. The silence was, suitably, just a minute. It would have been great if all the afternoon’s debate could have been conducted without hesitation, repetition or deviation but this was unlikely from the outset.

Grantham favourite child – Nicholas Parsons
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DeliverSK: Joint venture idea fails to deliver for South Kesteven.

Eighteen months ago, South Kesteven organised a meeting in the middle of the summer holidays to discuss the Conservative’s latest bright idea, namely “DeliverSK”. Despite scepticism and reservations from me and other opposition members, it was decreed that DeliverSK would be essential to delivering investment opportunities for the council. In a nutshell, the council would enter into a strategic partnership with an investment company and then form subsidiary companies, aka Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs), for each of the council’s bold ambitions. These might include LeisureSK, HomesSK, OfficeSpaceSK, EmptyTheBinsSK etc.

When I say that the opposition offered scepticism and reservations, I am not being fair to myself. What we actually brought was scrutiny and constructive criticism. I literally prepared 20 questions which were circulated prior to the meeting and effectively became the agenda when the committee met. The questions were along the lines of “What is DeliverSK?”, “How will it work?”, “Is it legal?” etc.

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Report to Market Deeping Town Council – January 2020

Report to MDTC Full Council  15th January 2020
from ASHLEY BAXTER, SKDC Councillor for Market & West Deeping.

Happy New Year to all Town and Parish Councillors, residents of the Deepings anyone else who is takin the time to read this. I hope your 2020 is splendid!

Climate Emergency

Regular readers will know that the Council (SKDC) declared a climate emergency in September 2019. SKDC has now appointed a Climate Change Officer and have also begun a set of ‘Task and Finish’ workshops and engaged the Carbon Trust to assist with compiling baseline data to ensure a meaningful Action Plan is delivered.

Saturday Market

The market which was launched with much fanfare by InvestSK at Easter last year has struggled against inclement weather and lack of budget which has led to a spiral of decline with few stalls leading to few customers and vice versa. The last stall threw in the towel just before Christmas (and hats off to the Brown Bread stall for sticking it out for so long) and, in light of the lack of any traders, SKDC have decided to cease trading until later this year. It is not clear whether the Spring will bring a revived Saturday market or a relocation of the ongoing Wednesday market, or neither, or both.

Deeping Shorts – Film Festival

The Open Door Baptist Church is hosting ‘Deeping Shorts’ – a short festival of short films – on the first four Saturday evenings in February. It has been organised in association with the help and support of InvestSK/SKDC and will make use of the cinema screen originally purchased for the Deepings Arts Group. The films have been collated from 17 different countries and include a range of comedies, animations and thought provoking works. Many have won awards. Tickets are £5 from Stamford Arts Centre or at ODBC on the night. Here’s an excerpt from one of the films…

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“Heroes? We were just doing our job!”

On my regular journey from the Deepings to my parents’ home in Norfolk, I pass a brown tourist sign indicating the ‘Fenland Aviation Museum‘. For over a decade I have been meaning to visit and on a recent rainy Saturday afternoon I finally visited with my sixteen year-old daughter.

On arrival it is clear that this small museum is not in the same league as the IWM at Duxford. The museum is set back from the road behind a pet-shop and various other small independent retail outlets.

A shingle track full of puddles leads to the entrance gate where the suggested donations are listed on a laminated card. The museum consists of a few modular buildings behind a grassed area probably not much bigger than a badminton court and crowded with aircraft in various stages of reconstruction. These include a Lighting T5 training jet and the fuselage of a recently donated spitfire awaiting the reattachment of its wings, somewhat reminiscent of a half-finished Air-Fix kit.

From the outside, I was not entirely convinced the museum was open as I gently pushed the PVC door but, sure enough, a volunteer named Steve was at the desk awaiting visitors. At almost 11am he was delighted to welcome us as the first visitors of the day. He briefly explained the layout of the museum and called across to another volunteer, Henry, who he said would be pleased to answer any questions.

The museum has a wide range of exhibits from many periods of aviation history including models of early airships through to the cockpit of a jumbo jet and memorabilia from the first gulf war. However, the raison d’etre appears to be a place to show the findings of many archaeological digs which have recovered parts of aeroplanes which crash-landed in and around fens during the Second World War.

Henry began our introduction by showing us an illuminated map of various crash sites which had been excavated, and then pointed to two engines which had been recovered from the same plane. The first was smashed and damaged almost beyond recognition while the second had been partially restored. Further into the museum were many similar examples of smashed propeller, landing gear and other scrap metal illustrating Fenland’s aviation heritage.

Henry followed us to the 1950s training simulator, the jumbo jet cockpit and the helicopter engine commenting with a zeal to match any aviation enthusiast.

We then came to a short passage connecting two of the buildings which told the stories of some of the aircraft and airmen who had served during the Second World War. Henry pointed to a panel which told the story of a Halifax bomber which had been shot down over Holland in December 1944. The panel has details of all the six crew but points out that, sadly, only the navigator had survived.

“There was fuel all through inside of the aircraft”, said Henry, “and so the pilot gave the instruction to bail out. I removed a metal door from hatch from beside me and dropped it through the hole. I then stepped through and followed it out.  The plane crashed into the countryside and I looked around but I couldn’t see any other parachutes. It was only me. I had no control over the parachute and the wind swept me over the river, which was the border, and so I landed in Germany.”

“How old were you?” I asked.

“Then? I was 21. Now, I’m 96.”

Henry was ‘on the run’ for six days trying to stay out of sight and surviving by drinking water from puddles and cattle-troughs. Eventually, just before Christmas he found himself walking, exhausted, down a main road. He heard the click of a rifle bolt and a voice shout “Halt, Wer Da?” and he knew he had been captured.

The panel in the museum explains that while Henry was a POW (Prisoner of War) for ‘only’ a few months, they were certainly the worst few months to be in that position with the German armies retreating from the advancing allied troops as the war neared its end. Henry was among the POWs forced to take part in the ‘Death March’ of 227km over 21 days and nights from Bankau Stalag Luft VII to Goldberg during horrendous weather with very little food and virtually no medical care. This was followed by three days travelling by rail, standing with 65 other men in a cattle truck.

As we stood at the centre of this small but well-cared-for museum, Henry told us that people refer to this corridor as ‘the hall of heroes’ but adds “We didn’t consider ourselves heroes, we were just doing our job”.

My daughter and I made our way round the rest of the museum exhibits which include a helicopter engine, propaganda posters from World War 1 and examples of ordnance of various shapes and sizes. Before we left, Henry directed us to an exhibition piece beneath a swastika flag. It has details, in original German and also translated into English, of a German attack on a Halifax bomber. In fact it was the attack which brought down Henry and his companions on that fateful night in 1944. Henry explained “I researched the raid in the Bundes-archive and I know how many rounds of ammunition were used, the name of the pilot and the name of the gunner. I don’t have any ill-feeling towards them. They were doing their jobs just the same as we were”.

Henry is the same age as the Queen. At the outbreak of the war he was the same age as my daughter is now. As a young man he put himself in harm’s way in defence of our country. What an unexpected privilege to meet an aviation enthusiast with such a story to tell.

Henry Wagner, sole survivor of the crew of a Halifax bomber shot down over Holland in 1944,

The Fenland Aviation Museum can be found at Old Lynn Rd, Wisbech PE14 7DA is normally open, during the season, on Saturdays (10-5), Sundays (10-4) and Wednesday afternoons (1-4). For more information phone 01845 461771. NB. The museum is usually closed between November and Easter.

Finally, the site for Deepings’ new Leisure Centre has been announced!

South Kesteven District Council has unveiled the exisiting playing fields at Deepings School as the preferred site for a new leisure centre. The site is already the home of Deepings Rugby Club, Deeping United FC, the Deepings Rotary 10k and is used for a number of other competitive sports activities. In just two years time, it might also be home to a brand new swimming pool, all weather pitches and everything else one might expect of a modern ‘wet and dry’ leisure centre.

Deepings School Fields
Sunset over the Deepings School Fields.

As you may have read, Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) announced in October 2017, and several times since then, that SKDC is planning to build a new Leisure Centre for the Deepings. This will replace the existing Leisure Centre which is well passed its sell by date and is literally falling apart at the seams with water often literally leaking through the roof above the pool area after heavy rainfall.

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