(by Ashley Baxter, SKDC Councillor for Market and West Deeping Ward)
I have tried to publish updates regarding the proposed new Deepings Leisure Centre which was originally announced by the Conservatives almost four years ago. The most recent were in November and September. Since then, very little has been published by South Kesteven District Council (SKDC) regarding the development, but I am moderately pleased to report that there has been some activity behind the scenes which gives cause for hope.
Firstly, formal communication has been restored! After an interval of many months, the monthly catch-up meetings are now taking between the project manager and the Deepings Independent Councillors (Cllr Phil Dilks, Cllr Virginia Moran and me). The meetings involve sharing of information and robust but good-natured exchanges of opinion; a refreshing return to a sensible conversation.
Regular readers will know that I am one of many people frustrated by the lack of tangible progress towards the planning and construction of the new leisure centre facilities. In fairness to SKDC, it has been a particularly difficult year with Covid which has resulted in the council effectively taking leisure services back in-house. This has been acheived by the creation of a council-owned company called ‘Leisure SK’. The Board of Leisure SK is composed mostly of Conservative councillors but some industry expertise and experience is offered by a non-executive Director. He is well-remunerated (circa £15,000pa) but probably worth the expense. The Board meetings are also attended by the SKDC Head of Leisure representing the views of the ‘client’ i.e. the Council. The creation of a structure and business plan for LeisureSK in just a few short months is an admirable achievement and it should mean leisure centres are more responsive and accountable to the public who use them. The drawback is that the same small team responsible for planning LeisureSK is also responsible for progressing the new Leisure Centre which has consequently been delayed again.
Application to the Football Foundation
The first step on the road to a new leisure centre will probably be a new All-Weather Pitch (AWP). This is commonly but incorrectly referred to as the ‘astroturf’. Many months of positive dialogue with Football Foundation (FF, the charitable arm of the FA) have given reason to believe a bid to the FF would be successful. It was hoped that this bid would be submitted before Christmas and the pitch might be ready for the kick-off of the football season this autumn. That’s not gonna happen; but perhaps it will be ready by the following year. Furthermore, the FF have suggested it would be best to delay making the formal bid until planning permission has been granted for the pitch.
This means that SKDC hopes/needs/intends/expects to submit an application for planning permission for an all-weather pitch within the next few weeks. This will involve publishing the first clues about the intended layout of the site, ie. if it is clear where the all-weather pitch will be sited within the Spalding Road site then one can make educated guesses about where the leisure centre is likely to be built.
Layout of the site
The location of the leisure centre is one of the points on which the Independent Councillors (including me) have had ‘exchanges of opinion’ with the Head of Leisure. To her credit, she has promised to share our views with the project architect who will hopefully take them into consideration. Ideally, there would be a choice of potential site layouts which could be shared with local residents, sports clubs and other stakeholders. It is not clear whether or not timescales and budgets will allow this ‘luxury’.
The other knock-on effect of preparing a planning application is that surveys have to be completed to the satisfaction of the planners (and the FF). I can therefore inform you that topographical surveys (mapping) have been taken of the whole of the Spalding Road site and geotechnical surveys (digging holes) have been undertaken at the parts of the site relating to the potential location(s) of the all-weather pitch.
The Big Announcement
Some of us were expecting a great unveiling of some of the detail of the Deepings Leisure Centre project in the weeks leading up to the County Council election. Sadly, that moment has probably now passed and the rules of ‘purdah’ mean that SKDC is unlikely to be issuing press releases and photos of councillors with hard hats and hi-vis jackets. The next big date on the horizon is the SKDC Cabinet meeting in June which is due to “discuss the proposals for Deepings Leisure Centre Development, to receive a presentation of feasibility work including options explored and operational business plans” and “to agree the facility mix and associated capital envelope of the development to be taken forward to the next stage”. As mentioned above, this might be preceded by a planning application for the all-weather pitch.
The Unpublished Leisure Report
In other news, on 4 Feb I submitted a Freedom of Information request in order to try to get a publicly accessible copy of the consultancy report produced by MACE over a year ago at a cost of roughly a quarter of a million pounds. The Council has 20 working days to respond to FoI requests and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it took 18 days fo reply that “This information is exempt under Section 22 of the FoIA 2000, which states that a public authority is not obliged to provide information which is intended for publication at a future date.”
However, the response went on to say “This exemption applies because the MACE report will be provided as a background paper to a cabinet report which is due to go before Scrutiny Committee and Cabinet not later than September 2021” so watch this space (but don’t get excited because I’ve seen a redacted copy of the report and it isn’t so exciting).
Back to ‘normal’
In case you are wondering, I can confirm that SKDC intend to re-open all the existing Leisure Centres in line with the Covid roadmap guidance, ie. it should be possible to book lane-swimming and gym sessions via the LeisureSK website from 12th April. Sports clubs including Deepings Swim Club should also start proper training again.
[I do realise that for many of our young athletes the training has continued throughout lockdown, thanks to the dedication of their club officials and coaches. However, swim club training in the living room is inevitably a poor substitute for swim club training in the pool]
Finally, some shameless electioneering
Since being elected to SKDC in 2015, I have tried to keep people up-to-date with council issues affecting the Deepings and the wider SK District. I have done this through
- attending Town and Parish meetings
- publishing regular activity updates
- occasional ward newsletters (though not during Covid)
- posting on Facebook and Twitter
- publishing information on this blog.
I have also been actively involved in lobbying on behalf of Deepings residents on many issues including: protecting Millfield as a publicly accessible open space; arguing against some planning applications and in favour of others; participating in the Neighbourhood Plan process; and representing residents’ concerns to SKDC and LCC.
On Thursday 6th May, Deepings will be electing new County Councillors and I will be the Independent candidate for Deepings West and Rural Division which includes most of Market Deeping as well as Baston and the villages of the Uffington benefice.
Please vote for me if you are able. If you live elsewhere in Lincolnshire, please support other Independent candidates.
Thank you in anticipation of your support!