A large-scale review is underway into the future of all Kirklees Council-owned leisure centres and swimming pools.
The future of the charitable trust which runs them, Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL), is also in doubt as Kirklees Council reviews all options.
Adele Poppleton, the council’s service director for culture and visitor economy, has warned that all eight council swimming pools are at risk of closure.
Prior to the Covid pandemic, Kirklees Council’s subsidy to KAL was falling, however since then rising energy prices, inflation and increases in the National Living Wage meant the council has had to step in with emergency help on top of its core grant.
Over the last three years the council has provided £5.07 million, £4.867 million and £6.1 million to KAL but in the next financial year – 2024-25 – that will fall to a maximum of £2.555 million due to the council’s own financial pressures.
This financial year KAL needed £7.1 million but the council could only offer £6.1 million, which meant temporary closures for Deighton Sports Arena and the pool at Colne Valley Leisure Centre in Slaithwaite and the closure of Batley Baths & Recreation Centre. Deighton Sports Arena will operate on reduced hours until November.
The council is now carrying out a full-scale review with no options off the table. A Leisure Centre Review Programme Board, taking in expertise from across the council, is looking at how the service might be operated in the future.
The £6.1 million from the council is 32% of KAL’s turnover and KAL is now drawing up a plan for how it can operate from April 2024 with just £2.555 million. KAL’s plans will be presented to the council by August 29.
At the same time, the council is looking at a new management structure for leisure centres which could mean KAL is replaced.
KAL, a charitable trust which works in partnership but separately from the council, was set up in 2002.
Trade unions have called for leisure centres to be taken back ‘in-house’ by the council and that is one of the options under consideration.
Others include: Seeking a private sector contractor to run all the centres; a mixed model which could see some centres transferred into community ownership, known as an ‘asset transfer’; or the creation of a new council-controlled company.
A report is likely to go to Cabinet on September 19 with councillors asked to agree a way forward and move ahead to public consultation.
Speaking at a meeting of the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee, Ms Poppleton said: “We have made it quite clear to KAL that next year they will receive a maximum of £2.555 million.
“If we were able to come up with an offer that would enable KAL to be more commercial and less reliant on this funding that would be fantastic but at the moment that’s what we are budgeting for.”
Ms Poppleton also revealed that KAL was looking to close its head office at the John Smith’s Stadium to save money but that could hit stadium – and council – finances.
She said the council had agreed that KAL could “explore” pulling out of the stadium but added: “I am using that word ‘explore’ because we have to assess the impact for the council and those discussions are on-going.”
The Leisure Centre Review Programme Board has been amassing data about the performance and condition of the various centres and also health, inequality and deprivation statistics.
Ms Poppleton said the board was also mapping where there are privately-run gyms and sports facilities “to see if there is a private market that can somehow fill the gap if KAL has to withdraw from particular centres.”
A survey has found that millions of pounds are needed to bring leisure centres up to a modern standard.
The worst is Dewsbury Sports Centre at £2.5 million with Batley Sports & Tennis Centre at Howden Clough just short of £2 million. Scissett Baths and Fitness Centre is around £1.2 million while around £800,000 is needed at the Stadium Health & Fitness Club at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Kirklees has eight swimming pools at the following locations:
- Batley Sports & Tennis Centre at Howden Clough
- Colne Valley Leisure Centre at Slaithwaite
- Dewsbury Sports Centre
- Holmfirth Pool and Fitness Centre
- Huddersfield Leisure Centre
- Scissett Baths and Fitness Centre
- Spen Valley Leisure Centre at Cleckheaton
- Stadium Health and Fitness Club
The council is currently seeking £500,000 in funding from Sport England’s Swimming Pool Support Fund. There are “stringent criteria” which means pools must be at risk of closure.
Ms Poppleton said all pools were currently at risk and added: “At this moment in time, until KAL come back to us with what they feel they can deliver and remain solvent, all of the pools are at risk.
“But once we’ve discussed that offer, it may move to a position where we’re able to say there are pools no longer at risk.
“In order to apply for the Sports England funding, the pools have to be at risk of closure and the local authority has to make a commitment that if funded, we will ensure that those pools remain open for three years.”
There was a huge outcry when Colne Valley’s pool closed temporarily with many warning of the health and well-being implications and also the potential harm to children of not being able to learn to swim near to home.
Ms Poppleton said: “We are aware we cannot run everything but we need to ensure our communities can access provision.”
She warned there were “very few private swimming pools” in Kirklees. Most were small and not big enough for adults who wanted lane swimming or for school swimming lessons.
“Swimming is a life skill, it’s in the National Curriculum and it’s important for health,” she said.