Kirklees Council is set to pump an extra £6 million into sports and leisure facilities – but it’s still not enough to re-open all three venues hit by ‘temporary’ closures last December.
There was a reprieve for the swimming pool at Colne Valley Leisure Centre in Slaithwaite, which will re-open in April, but there remains uncertainty over Deighton Sports Arena and Batley Baths & Recreation Centre.
Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL), the charitable trust which runs sports and leisure centres on behalf of Kirklees Council, says it will look at re-opening Deighton Sports Arena for “limited hours provision for an interim period” but Batley looks set to remain closed as it’s a listed building with a small and awkward layout which is expensive to operate.
Kirklees Council has provided an extra £11 million in funding to KAL over the last four years to see it through the Covid-19 pandemic but budget pressures on the council means it cannot cover all KAL’s mounting bills.
KAL is now asking members of the centres affected for their comments and feedback.
Clr Paul Davies, Cabinet member for corporate services, said: “Our budget proposals include a support package for KAL to help them address their spiralling costs. This has given KAL some options on the facilities that closed temporarily in December.
“The financial pressures on KAL remain intense so there are no easy solutions to the problems that are facing the whole leisure industry. But the consultation gives customers a chance to shape leisure provision at the three sites affected.
“It’s important that anyone who uses these facilities takes part in the consultation and makes their voice heard. KAL will consider all the responses before taking final decisions, which include making alternative options available for as many customers as possible.”
These are the proposed changes in KAL’s words:
Colne Valley Leisure Centre – Swimming Pool
“As a result of several factors, importantly including a re-programming exercise to maximise daytime usage, including future school swimming schedules, a clear need for the pool at Colne Valley Leisure Centre has been identified.
“The pool will therefore re-open to customers in early April 2023, with a re-opening date to be confirmed in due course. KAL will continue to work with user groups to ensure the centre operates as efficiently as possible.”
Deighton Sports Arena
“Whilst current analysis makes it difficult to viably re-open Deighton Sports Arena financially, KAL is exploring options to implement limited hours provision for an interim period, whilst options for the longer-term future of the facility are explored.”
Batley Baths & Recreation Centre
“Unfortunately, the considerable operating cost to operate Batley Baths & Recreation Centre, in particular the swimming pool, remain very high.
“The layout and small nature of the building makes it difficult to significantly mitigate these costs, while there are also several alternative KAL managed leisure centres within a few kilometres of Batley Baths & Recreation Centre.
“KAL is currently exploring options for reduced or alternative provision on an interim basis whilst options for the longer-term future of the facility are considered.”
In a statement, KAL said: “The impact of huge rises in energy costs, staff costs, the lasting impact of the pandemic and significant supplier cost increases due to inflation meant that the charity needed to reduce its own costs urgently to remain financially viable.
“That is why we decided to implement temporary closures. KAL appreciate these decisions were extremely disappointing for the users of these facilities and the local communities where these sites are located.
“Since December, KAL has been working with Kirklees Council on how we can address our challenges in the next financial year.
“We can now confirm that Kirklees Council’s draft budget for the next financial year includes support totalling more than £6m to allow KAL to continue to operate a significant proportion of the current estate. This means we are able to make some changes to the temporary action we took in December.
“Despite the council’s support, the wider economic situation remains very difficult for KAL and many other organisations. External costs remain a major pressure on KAL’s finances.
“In addition, the UK Government has also now declined to classify leisure facilities/swimming pools as ‘Energy and Trade Intensive Industries’ meaning no additional support with energy costs are currently available to assist with these pressures beyond March 2023. In this context, KAL will need to maintain some of the measures we took last year.
“Before any final decisions are taken, KAL want to hear the views of our customers about the plans.
“KAL are seeking views from customers at the affected sites regarding the updated position and interim provision/future options via a customer survey. All registered customers have been sent a link to these surveys.
“If you wish to complete the survey and have not been sent a link, please email firstname.lastname@example.org before 27th February 2023.”
A spokesman for the Colne Valley Save Our Pool Group said: “This is an encouraging announcement – but it’s also one which hinges on the council’s decision regarding continued financial support for KAL, and this will not become clearer until after the Budget meeting in March.
“The council makes decisions which have a significant impact on people’s health and well-being for the whole of their lives. It’s vital that these decisions are fully informed.
“Short to medium term financial concerns need to be put into the wider context of public benefit and the council’s over-arching duty to its citizens; restricting pool-related activities will contribute to conditions such as diabetes, obesity, respiratory diseases, and mental health issues which in turn will add to the already considerable operational and financial pressures on NHS and other health and council services.
“Aside from direct health impacts, the pool in Slaithwaite acts as social hub – and one local GP has observed that from their direct experience the health impact of social isolation is greater than that of smoking and drinking combined.
“The closure of Batley pool (or any other local facility) has authority-wide implications – and it’s imperative these are taken fully into account.
“We’d like to make it clear that none of the above is a criticism of either the council or KAL. It’s a recognition that there is much more to do to address a long-standing problem – and the solution requires engagement with people and communities across all age groups and circumstances across Kirklees.
“We welcome any opportunity to work constructively with the council, with KAL and other stakeholders, as it is in everyone’s interest to do the right things, in the right ways and not delay taking actions which will deliver real benefits.”