More details have been revealed about the financial restructuring which led to two threatened leisure centres being saved from closure.
Colne Valley Leisure Centre in Slaithwaite and Batley Sports & Tennis Centre in Howden Clough escaped the axe after a review led by Kirklees Council.
Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL), the charitable trust which runs sports and leisure centres on behalf of the council, was hit by a funding crisis due to spiralling energy costs and an increase in staffing costs at a time it was still recovering from the impact of the pandemic.
KAL received a £6 million bail-out from the council this year but with no money available above its £2.555 million core grant for 2024-25, not all centres could be kept open.
KAL earmarked Colne Valley Leisure Centre, Batley Sports & Tennis Centre, Dewsbury Sports Centre and Deighton Sports Arena for closure under a plan which went out to public consultation.
However, by the end of the six-week public consultation – which had 18,000 replies, the biggest response rate in the history of Kirklees – the picture had changed dramatically.
KAL saved significant costs by pulling out of its lease at the John Smith’s Stadium. On November 30 it shut down the Stadium Health & Fitness Club, and plans to move its head office from the stadium to Huddersfield Leisure Centre.
Dewsbury Sports Centre, which closed ‘temporarily’ in September when defective concrete – known as Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete or RAAC – was found, has now undergone a full inspection.
RAAC has been confirmed in the pool side and over the reception area and some of the concrete panels are damaged and cracked with lumps falling away.
A meeting of Kirklees Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee was told of a number of changes which had radically altered KAL’s financial position and budget going forward. These included:
- Thirty-three staff being made redundant including a 21% reduction in head office staff;
- The end of a ‘fair pricing for life’ membership fee and more members staying despite this year’s fee increases;
- Taking the direct debit collection of membership fees in-house which has proved more efficient and cheaper;
- Reduced energy consumption and a fall in energy prices;
- Pulling out of the John Smith’s Stadium with associated rent and service costs;
- A move to ‘essential spending’ only;
- The retention of more former Dewsbury Sports Centre members than expected with 900 moving to other KAL sites;
- The retention of all school swimming lessons with Dewsbury schools transferring to other KAL sites;
- A pledge to pay more for use of facilities at Batley by Batley Girls’ High School.
KAL is also looking at increasing pricing at Scissett Baths & Fitness Centre and Holmfirth Pool & Fitness Centre which will be improved with equipment brought in from the stadium gym.
KAL also plans to review opening times at all its sites and may cut back opening hours at less popular times.
The meeting was told that KAL had found an additional £900,000 in savings with £1 million in reduced energy consumption and reduced energy prices.
Deighton Sports Arena has a new operator interested but that could be 12 months to two years away while there is interest from the local community too.
KAL has agreed to keep Deighton open until March 31 2024 to see how talks progress.
In the Colne Valley, members have said they would be prepared to pay more in membership fees and the council and KAL are to work with community campaigners on future pricing and also fundraising to secure grants for such as a boiler upgrade.
KAL has also said it will fund any future salary increases – caused by a rise in the National Living Wage – itself rather than ask the council to foot the bill.
At the meeting Clr Andrew Cooper (Green, Newsome) welcomed the revised budget but asked about how much “headroom” there was in the finances to cope with any future rise in energy costs in what remains a volatile market.
He also asked about renewable energy and also about competition for school swimming lessons. He said there were “travelling swimming pools” that could be set up at schools for a certain period of time offering lessons.
He said he had seen a presentation at a governors’ meeting and the school would “save a fortune.”
Clr Shabir Pandor (Lab, Batley West) wanted to quash false rumours that no RAAC had been found at Dewsbury Sports Centre and said it was vital to look at leisure provision in Dewsbury, which had high levels of deprivation. He asked whether it would be possible to re-open the ‘dry side’ of Dewsbury Sports Centre which is free of RAAC.
The council’s Cabinet member for finance and regeneration, Clr Graham Turner, said he visited Dewsbury Sports Centre last week and had seen the damaged RAAC for himself (above).
He said to re-open the ‘dry side’ there would have to be a new entrance created and a new boiler installed as both existing boilers were in the ‘wet side.’
The council has to investigate how much the works would cost and Clr Turner also said discussions were underway over alternative health and wellbeing provision in Dewsbury. He warned, however, the market was competitive with a new private gym set to open nearby.
If Dewsbury re-opened and members moved back from other sites that could mean the whole business plan had to be looked at again.
A report to the Cabinet says that all the repairs needed to Dewsbury Sports Centre – also including pool repairs and electrical works – could total £6 million to £7 million.
Clr Turner described the RAAC at Dewsbury as “dangerous” and added: “I wouldn’t want my children or grandchildren to go in there. It might last 100 years or it might fall down tomorrow.”
There have been calls from the unions for the management of leisure centres to be brought back in-house by the council.
The meeting was told that local authorities set up bodies such as KAL to save on business rates and reduce costs.
Clr Turner said: “We need to spend the next 12 months stabilising KAL before any decision is made about bringing it back in-house. There’s a lot of money to be saved by doing it this way.”
Clr Pandor said: “Our messaging on this needs to be stronger. Bringing it back in-house might not be the best option.”
A decision on the future model for leisure centres will be taken by Cabinet on Tuesday December 12. The centres to remain open will be as follows:
• Batley Sports & Tennis Centre
• Bradley Park Golf Club
• Colne Valley Leisure Centre
• Holmfirth Pool and Fitness Centre
• Huddersfield Leisure Centre
• Leeds Road Sports Complex
• Scissett Baths & Fitness Centre
• Spen Valley Leisure Centre & Princess Mary Stadium/ Running Track at Cleckheaton.
Main image (top) by: GORDON PARKS