Kirklees Council has launched its public consultation over the future of leisure centres as big question marks remain over which sites will escape the axe.
The council has said only Huddersfield Leisure Centre and Spen Valley Leisure Centre at Cleckheaton are safe with all the rest at some risk of closure to a larger or lesser degree.
Colne Valley Leisure Centre at Slaithwaite, Dewsbury Sports Centre and Batley Sports & Tennis Centre at Howden Clough are the three earmarked for permanent closure.
The council’s consultation, published on Friday, reveals for the first time that the Stadium Health & Fitness Club at the John Smith’s Stadium is at risk.
Previously the council said there were complex issues with the lease. Now, however, the council says Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL), the trust which runs the sports and leisure facilities on behalf of the council, is pulling out of the stadium gym and pool.
The consultation document says: “KAL are legally withdrawing as the operator of the Stadium Health & Fitness Club so the council will be seeking alternative operators.”
Deighton Sports Arena is operating under reduced hours until November when it is expected to close and the council hopes a local organisation will take it over as part of an “asset transfer.”
An action group has also met in Slaithwaite to decide how the community can keep open Colne Valley Leisure Centre.
The council’s consultation says: “Bradley Golf Club, Deighton Sports Arena, Holmfirth Pool & Fitness Centre, Leeds Road Sports Complex and Scissett Baths and Fitness Centre are under continued review.
“We hope to keep some of these open but they have the potential to close within a short timescale should financial or operational circumstances change.”
Kirklees Council provided KAL with a £6 million bail-out this year but there is only £2.55 million for the next financial year which is why a review is underway.
The council says: “Although KAL’s income position has recovered to above pre-Covid-19 levels, external, uncontrollable expenditure pressures have continued to impact upon KAL.
“The cost of running centres, in particular swimming pools, has increased beyond what anyone could have predicted.
“Energy and general running costs have increased in line with the national financial situation and staffing costs have increased due to the increases in the National Living Wage.
“Leisure centre operators are facing large energy bill increases when compared to 2019. In the KAL managed leisure centres, utilities costs have increased from around £1m to £4m per year.
“Kirklees are not alone in this situation. Research in November 2022 found that 40% of council areas were at risk of losing some of their leisure centres and swimming pools. 65 pools had closed in the three years to March 2022.
“The council has been committed to maintaining its leisure centres as much as possible for many years which is reflected in its larger than average swimming pool provision.
“In 2022, the average offer in other local authority areas similar to Kirklees was one pool per 80,000 people, whereas in Kirklees it was one pool per 55,000 people.
“It is currently costing the council (and in turn the taxpayer) between £1 and £5 per person, per visit, to operate most of the sites.
“Unfortunately, the council is no longer in the position to maintain this level of funding. Due to the current financial situation, the council will only be able to provide KAL with funding of £2.55m next year. This means that changes will have to take place and the number of centres will reduce.”
The council says there are four possible options for sites or centres it decides to close.
They are: investigate alternative uses; pass the centres to the community to run (asset transfer); market the centres to a private operator; or sell the buildings and land for development such as housing.
The council says only two of its sites are profitable. These are the Leeds Road Sports Complex and Bradley Park Golf Course.
Leeds Road has indoor and outdoor pitches, an athletics track and an indoor crown green bowling facility. It is well used by local sports clubs and the council says the site has the “potential for development, supported by external investment.”
Scissett Baths & Fitness Centre’s future appears to hinge on the council being successful in a bid to Sport England for £500,000 though the council says that as a former miners’ welfare building there could be other “potential funding avenues” to be explored.
The public consultation will run for six weeks and a report will be presented to the council’s Cabinet in December. The consultation can be found HERE.