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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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