So much money down the drain! – Update on SK Leisure facilities – May 2020

My last update regarding the new Deepings leisure centre was published on March 12th. Obviously, the world has changed since then, due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, I am pleased to report that, despite the lockdown, there appears to be some evidence of progress with the plans.

The Deputy Leader of the Council has promised that some detailed proposals will be shared with the Deepings ward councillors before the end of June. It appears that plans for a new leisure centre at Stamford have been abandoned and investigations into whether Grantham’s facilities should be relocated from the Meres to the town centre have concluded that this would not be feasible (The latter decision shouldn’t have taken more than ten seconds of informed research). Instead, the facilities at Bourne, Grantham and Stamford will receive facelifts and refurbishment of varying extent while the Deepings Leisure Centre remains firmly on the table as a new-build project.

Meanwhile, Independent Councillors who represent Deepings wards continue to ask questions about the lack of progress made so far. Cllr Ashley Baxter (Ind, Market and West Deeping and author of this blog) has discovered the Council has squandered £284,000 on paying consultancy firm ‘Mace’ to evaluate options for leisure centres across the District. A heavy tome has been produced by Mace but it is apparently of little use. I have recently asked for a copy of the report to see what ‘magic beans’ it prescribes but I fear I might have to wait a while and, if I ever do see it, the content will be commercially confidential.

The commisioning of the consultants’ report was approved by the SKDC Full Council of 2019. During the meeting, the then newly-elected Cllr Virginia Moran prophesied that it would be a waste of money declaring ““We shouldn’t need to spend more than 6p to determine the business case for a leisure centre for the Deepings.”.

The expenditure was proposed by Cllr Helen Goral (Con) who has since resigned from the Cabinet during the leadership of Cllr Matthew Lee (Con) who has since resigned as Council Leader. The Chief Executive at the time was Aidan Rave but he has now left the Council altogether.

Before authorising the expenditure, the Council was told that Mace would be used as the preferred supplier because the Council already had a working relationship with them and consequently there was no need to shop around. It was also stated that the £250,000 additional funding allocation would “allow for the detailed business cases to be developed for Stamford, Market Deeping and Bourne”. Now here we are, a year later, £284,000 poorer and it seems that no detailed business cases emerged from the consultant. I am not altogether surprised as it was rumoured at the time that the supposed leisure centre experts didn’t appear to know that modern swimming pools can have movable floors.

Broken promises

It was the aforementioned Cllr Lee who, in 2017, made the bold promises of:

  • a new leisure centre in the Deepings
  • a new leisure centre in Stamford
  • 10,000 ft2 of new office accommodation in the Deepings;
  • a 300-seat ‘digital hub’ in Stamford,
  • a serviced office facility for micro-businesses in Bourne.

Three years later and none of this has been delivered, furthermore it seems the Deepings Leisure Centre is the only item on the shopping list which currently shows any sign of intent or progress. I hope that my next ‘leisure centre update’ post will have some far more positive news.

Concerns over income

At the Finance Committee earlier this week it was revealed that the incumbent manager of the SKDC Leisure Centres, 1Life, has submitted a legal claim to the Council for financial losses resulting from the Covid crisis. The claim is being reviewed and challenged so it is not possible to specify the financial impact at this time.

Confusion over decision-making

As a Ward Councillor, it has always been quite difficult to keep up-to-date with what’s happening regarding the Leisure Transformation programme, and especially to find information which can be shared ‘on the record’. The Council Officers have been very good at answering questions as honestly as they can and as transparently as they are allowed. The recently appointed Head of Leisure has been very clear with me about the challenges she faces in terms of the existing leisure centres and the new-build and refurbishment projects and I am very grateful for her candour.

However, the ‘proper democratic process’ has been far more difficult to navigate. Independent Councillors for the Deepings, namely Cllr Virginia Moran, Cllr Phil Dilks and myself, have asked publicly for updates regarding the Deepings facilities at every appropriate opportunity. For three years now we have received patronising ‘all in good time’ and ‘wait and see’ responses. We have been subjected to phoney consultations and genuine consultations and have tried throughout to keep local sports clubs informed.

The most recent formal decision of the Council was to create a ‘Members Working Group’ or possibly a number of ‘Members Working Groups’, either concerning the Leisure Transformation plans across the District or relevant to each town, depending on which meeting minutes you read and whether or not you were in the room when the Group(s) were formed.

Regardless of the remit and the membership, no meeting of any formally established Members Working Groups have been convened. However, it is hoped that the Deepings will be the first to have a serious conversation about the available options for a new Leisure Centre and that conversation will start next month, hopefully!

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?

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?

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.

Continue reading