Deal hands over town leisure centres

A Wiltshire league swimming meeting being held at the Link Centre

A Wiltshire league swimming meeting being held at the Link Centre

First published in News Swindon Advertiser: Photograph of the Author by , @Michael_Benke

Swindon Council has announced the companies who will be leasing Swindon’s leisure and golf facilities, following several months of negotiation.

A process was started last year to move these facilities out of council control in a bid to save £1.5 million a year in subsidies.

Greenwich Leisure Limited, which operates the Oasis on a day-to-day basis, will take over the running of all the leisure aspects of the deal on 25 year leases.

They will operate Croft Sports Centre, Delta Tennis Centre, Haydon Centre and the Link Centre, with a guarantee to keep them open for at least ten years. The Dorcan Recreation Complex and Health Hydro will have stay open guarantees for five years.

If after this time GLL decide any of those sites are not financially viable they can relinquish them, but the council will have first refusal.

GLL are a not-for-profit social enterprise and run 140 venues around the country, including the London Aquatics Centre and the Copper Box Arena.

Broome Manor and Highworth golf facilities will be run by Twigmarket, who also run Trent Park golf course in London and have been involved in running courses since 1990.

Due to the level of investment planned, these will both be on 75 year leases with 25 and 15 year keep open options respectively.

Moredon pitch and putt has been removed from the proposal as it is not seen as financially viable to run and will now become public space. Although the pitch and putt will remain, the greens will not be maintained by the council and cabinet will be asked to look for alternative options.

There will not be any subsidies of any of the facilities although there will be a cost to the council of around £3m which will go towards pension cost and fixing essential repairs.

This will be funded through section 106 money and loans at a preferential rate.

The proposal will go before cabinet who will be asked to recommend GLL and Twigmarket next week prior to the next full council meeting. If it gains approval, the leases are likely to come into effect later this year.

There had been initial fears the leases could lead to the closure of some of the less profitable venues, with the land being sold on for housing. Last week a petition with 1,600 signatures demanding the Croft playing fields were removed from the lease was handed in to the mayor following worries it could be sold for housing.

However, councillors have dismissed this and described it as a positive step for Swindon.

Coun Keith Williams (Con, Shaw), the cabinet member for leisure, said: “We think this is a great deal, which not only saves the council £1.5 million but also secures investment for these sites which could not happen if they remained in public ownership.

“Both GLL and Twigmarket have excellent track records and met all our key outcomes in the bid evaluation process, so I will be urging my cabinet colleagues to support the recommendations outlined in the cabinet report to maintain the fantastic leisure offer that we have in Swindon.

“The two companies specialise in their fields and have no interest in house building. That is not what they do.

“We have had to pay the cost with regards the pension and repairs because of the type of business GLL are. There is some section 106 money we can use and we will get preferential rates.

“Selling off land and putting up houses was something which was never on the cards.

“Unfortunately, because of the sensitivities surrounding the negotiations we were unable to divulge too many details but a lot of what was said was simply scaremongering.

“I can also say the Croft Fields are now more secure than they were before with both GLL and the council having a say, as well as the covenant on the land.”

Earlier this year, a two-month consultation was held on the plan to lease out the facilities with the overriding concern of residents being an increase in the cost of usage.

“That was a concern with the Oasis but since GLL have taken over the management prices have stayed more or less the same with some dropping.

“Now we will see GLL run all the leisure facilities, with a Swindon Card which can be used at all of the sites.

“Twigmarket have also confirmed they are not planning to raise prices.”

Labour Group leader Jim Grant said: “While we haven’t seen the full detail of the new proposals, we are pleased that it appears that the Conservative Group have decided to take note of the Labour Group’s proposals for the leasing of the leisure centres.

“After the initial consultation on the Conservative Group’s proposals to lease out the leisure centres on 99 year leases, we said that there should be an absolute maximum lease of 25 years and that the three year keep-open clause was unacceptable. They appear to have amended their plans based on our position, which we’re obviously pleased about.

“We understand the golf courses will be a separate proposition and we’ve heard a 75 year lease is being proposed for Broome Manor Golf Course which we’re not happy about.

“The Cabinet have also decided to keep the playing fields at Croft as part of the lease which we are unhappy with as it is an public open space that should be publicly controlled, and there has been a petition already submitted to the council about this with nearly 1700 signatures.”

The cabinet meeting will be held next Wednesday and if recommended the plan will go to full council in July.

Plans for investment

One of the firms which has been chosen to take over Swindon Council’s leisure facilities has said it plans to invest in its sites.

Twigmarket Ltd has confirmed it will be investing in the two golf courses at Broome Manor and Highworth and has no plans to raise prices.

Jeremy Sturgess, chairman of Twigmarket Ltd, said: “We plan to invest significant sums over the years to improve the facilities in Swindon.

“Twigmarket are public golf course operators pure and simple and look forward to providing visitors and members with the best quality and value golf in Wiltshire.

“I can also confirm that there will be no increase in green fee or annual pass prices above inflation for the foreseeable future.”

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