Agenda item

Leisure Transformation & New Build Site Selection Update - Report of Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth [Key Decision: REG/02/21]


The Cabinet considered a report of the Corporate Director of Regeneration, Economy and Growth which provided an update on the leisure transformation programme approved by Cabinet in January 2020.  The report set out progress to date including the next steps for the full development of the programme, and, sought approval for three preferred sites for new build leisure centres for Seaham, Chester-le-Street and Bishop Auckland (for copy see file of minutes).


Councillor Tucker, local member for Woodhouse Close division referred to the concerns raised in the report regarding the Tindale Crescent site.  She commented that to move a leisure centre out of a deprived area would make it more difficult for people to access it, and, in an area where the infrastructure is not in place, this was not a cost effective, viable option for Bishop Auckland.  She requested Cabinet to reconsider the proposal in the interests of the health and wellbeing of the residents of Woodhouse Close and the people of Bishop Auckland in general.


Councillor Marshall, Portfolio Holder for Economic Regeneration thanked Councillor Tucker for the question.  He confirmed that detailed site evaluations had been completed, the matters raised had been considered, and there was provision for further feasibility, and a range of detailed assessments.  Whilst site contamination, including mine shafts and conserving habitats had been considered to the appropriate level at this stage, it is accepted these are extremely important matters that are subject to further detailed work.  In addressing the issue of accessibility, Councillor Marshall highlighted that the public consultation exercise identified that only 4% of customers use public transport and the majority arrive by car.  In recommending the site, an equality impact assessment had been completed and further work was undertaken to explore public transport provision. This established that the site was served by an hourly direct bus service, and, by a number of indirect bus services. Further work will be explored to improve the pedestrian and public transport infrastructure and Stronger Towns funding and other initiatives will help to address this. The programme will work closely with other schemes towards the best joint outcomes for the new leisure site and the wider town as a whole.


Councillor Marshall explained that no services such as gas, electricity or sewers run through the site, however, there are services running close to the perimeter and the site design will consider this in more detail.  During the site appraisal stage, it is standard practice to include risk items within the cost plan for the project. These risks will be addressed as the project develops and the cost plan will be amended as with any large construction project. Early site investigations have provided sufficient assurances that the risks that have been identified can be mitigated.  It is unlikely that benefit will arise from co-locating a library at Tindale Crescent.  The planned leisure facility, operating alongside the retail provision within the Tindale area makes for the best mix of services. A library will often lend itself more naturally to a community-focussed co-location and more naturally lends itself to a community hub type facility in Woodhouse Close.  Councillor Marshall concluded his response by saying that taking this approach, the Council is able to generate a better overall mix of service provision for the town and surrounding areas, whilst at the same time maximising regeneration opportunities.


Councillor Wilkes, local member for Framwellgate and Newton Hall division thanked Cabinet for improving the environmental sustainability of the leisure proposals and requested that Cabinet advise on the £14 million increase in the original budget from January, as there appeared to be no breakdown as to where this additional funding will be spent, and, on what.  Given the lack of detail and the concerns raised by himself and residents, Councillor Wilkes asked the Portfolio Holder for Economic Regeneration to confirm whether Abbey Leisure Centre will retain a steam/sauna provision, whether the increase in refurbishment costs includes the renewal of the changing room areas and showers, and, whether the increase in refurbishment costs includes any additional works which were unfunded in the original report of over two years ago.  Councillor Wilkes also asked if the Portfolio Holder could confirm whether the intention remains for Abbey Leisure Centre to open on a full-time basis, and, that the extended opening hours will continue.  He pointed out that residents had waited over two years for the start of works and requested assurance that work will begin at Abbey Leisure Centre in this calendar year.


Thanking Councillor Wilkes for the question, Councillor Marshall replied that the focus on this phase of work had been on site selection for new build leisure centres. The facility mix for each venue is still to be finalised and will involve the careful balancing of wellbeing, sustainability and accessibility.  He added the Council will work through the details over next round of engagement in the summer, including working with young people, disabled people and other groups in the community.  He confirmed the showers and changing facilities had been included as part of the proposals at this stage and their inclusion will be subject to the final refinement of the project scope. The costs presented in the report include a broader range of considerations which reflect further refinement of the planning for the new leisure centres which takes account of more detailed on-site surveys and investigations.  With regard to opening times, this level of detail will be developed with the business plan and facility mix and operating proposals will need to take account of changes resulting from the global pandemic, and it will not be possible to confirm final dates until the facility mix is finalised and the further stage of engagement is complete. Councillor Marshall assured Councillor Wilkes that a final report, providing full details of the finalised proposals including costs, benefits and the delivery timeline, will be brought to Cabinet in the autumn. 


The Chair then invited Councillor Wilkes to ask a question on behalf of Councillor Huntington, local member for Shildon and Dene Valley division.  In his question Councillor Huntington expressed concern that Shildon and Dean Valley division has some of the lowest health outcomes in the county and he commented that the report did not provide clarity on the future for Shildon.  He asked Cabinet to guarantee that Shildon will either be provided with a new leisure centre, or, that the existing centre will be fully refurbished.


Councillor Marshallconfirmed the clear commitment to the continued provision of leisure facilities in Shildon, pointing out that recently £264,000 had been spent on refurbishing the athletics track, athletics equipment and associated changing facilities and grandstand.  This element of work had been taken forward first, to take advantage of £100,000 of external funding provided by Sport England.  Now that this work had been completed to a very high standard, the project team are turning their attention to plans for the leisure centre and wider site, and local members will be kept informed as discussions progress.


Moving the report, Councillor Marshall emphasised the importance of supporting health and wellbeing as the county emerges from the pandemic.  He commented that the report presents innovative plans which will see all the existing sites remain open during the build period and this will ensure the Council continues to support the community to access health and wellbeing activities.  Seconding the report, Councillor Shaw, Portfolio Holder for Strategic Housing and Assets said the plans contribute to the commitment to develop an overarching health strategy and this aligns with the key strategic priorities for the Council. 


Councillor Allen, Portfolio Holder for Transformation, Culture and Tourism welcomed the new centres for Seaham, Chester le Street and Bishop Auckland, pointing out they will also benefit the surrounding towns and villages. She added the community hub development at Woodhouse Close which will be co-designed with local people and organisations, will incorporate library provision, which is particularly important as the library at Woodhouse Close is one of the most used libraries in the county. The new proposal will do more to meet the needs of the local community and Councillor Allen said she is looking forward to meeting residents to discuss their ideas as to what they would like to see in the community hub.


The Portfolio Holder for Corporate Services and Rural Issues, Councillor Patterson, said the report presents one component of a broad network of facilities adding that she was pleased to see it includes the important contribution of community leisure organisations.  She thanked all residents who had participated and welcomed further public engagement in the summer with updates on the Council’s Leisure Strategy to follow later in the year.




That the recommendations in the report be approved.


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