Consultation on Council Leisure Centres approved
As part of our continued work to balance our budgets, our Cabinet Members have approved a 6-week consultation on proposals for changes to the district’s leisure centre offer.
Our 11 leisure centres have been operated by an external charity called Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL) since 2002. However, the financial responsibility for the physical buildings belongs to the council. In addition to paying for repairs and maintenance, we provide a grant to KAL each year to subsidise the provision of leisure services at the sites.
Our leisure centres, like the wider leisure industry, were particularly hard hit during COVID as pools and sports centres were closed for significant periods and bringing in no income.
Aware of this, we increased our subsidy to KAL during the recovery period. This included an additional £9.96m, alongside the core funding of £6m between April 21 and April 2024.
Due to the current financial situation we can only provide a grant of £2.55m in the next financial year.
Kirklees Active Leisure has told the council that without additional funding, they will need to scale back their offer.
The need to change is a direct impact of the increased costs associated with running leisure centres such as energy, staffing and maintenance costs. In KAL centres, utilities costs have increased from around £1m to £4m.
Kirklees are not alone in this situation; research in November 2022 stated that 40% of council areas were at risk of losing their leisure centres and swimming pools and 65 pools have closed in the three years to March 2022 (UKActive).
What are the proposals?
We are consulting on which centres should remain open to ensure there is still a level of public access to swimming, sport, and exercise across the district.
Changes will have to take place, and the number of centres will reduce. This is due to the level of financial contribution the council is able to make to its partnership with KAL.
We are proposing to continue operating the flagship centres in the North and South of the district: Huddersfield Leisure Centre and Spen Valley Leisure Centre.
Under the proposal we would look to keep open another six ‘marginal’ sites into the next financial year. This is because they either require a relatively low level of financial contribution from the council, or further time is required for additional funding to be secured or alternative offers to be explored.
The ‘marginal sites’ include Holmfirth Pool & Fitness Suite, and Bradley Park Golf Course. They also include Scissett Baths and Fitness Centre which we could potentially keep open if funding is granted by Sports England.
Another marginal site is Stadium Health & Fitness Club. We could keep this open in the short term to allow time to resolve complex leasing arrangements, and investigate the site’s attraction to commercial operators.
The current plan is that KAL will stop operating Deighton Sports Arena in November 2023. However, we are looking into other operating models such as a community asset transfer.
All of the ‘marginal’ sites could still close should their financial or operational circumstances change.
We are also consulting on three potential permanent closures. These are Dewsbury Sports Centre, Batley Sports & Tennis Centre, and Colne Valley Leisure Centre. We are proposing to close these as they require a larger council contribution to operate than other centres, as well as significant capital investment for repairs and maintenance over the next three years.
Councillor Turner, Cabinet Member for Finance and Regeneration, said:
“Where many councils have closed pools and sports centres gradually over many years, we have remained committed to protecting leisure services as much as possible. This has also included major investment in new centres for both North and South Kirklees in recent years.’
“However, the economic situation facing the UK is having a significant impact on everyone including local councils. Government funding has failed to plug the gap created by the long-term impacts of austerity, COVID and increased energy prices.’
“This means more of council budgets are being absorbed by statutory [legally required] and other essential front-line services. This has left us having to make very difficult decisions on the ongoing provision of other services, such as sport and leisure.’
“We are consulting on the proposals, so that we can understand the impact they will have on local people. The information gathered will be used alongside the economic, environmental, social, and legal information available to the council to draft a report for a final decision at the Cabinet Meeting in December.”