Agenda item

MTFS 90 Strategic Leisure Review - Update

To receive an update on progress with the Strategic Leisure Review and proposed approach in advance of a formal public consultation in late 2023.


The committee considered the report which provided an update on the progress of the implementation of the Strategic Leisure Review following the approval of the Council’s Medium Term Financial Strategy 2023-27 (MTFS) at Full Council on 22 February 2023.


Cllr Clowes attended the meeting as a visiting member. Cllr Clowes highlighted that all centres identified for potential closure were aligned with school academies and asked, with regard to legislation pertaining to academies, whether the Council was at risk of legal challenge. Cllr Clowes stated that there were no alternative options appraisals to consult on, there was a need for better understanding of capacity to fulfil the Council’s statutory duties in relation to primary school swimming at alternative sites before going out to consultation and that there would be an impact on loss of classroom time and increased costs of transport for schools. Cllr Clowes asked what data had been sought from Swim England to inform the process going forward. Cllr Clowes also asked where the fiscal analysis was to support the proposal that removing four centres would not destabilise the fiscal viability of Everybody Health and Leisure (EHL). The contract would expire in 2029 but Cllr Clowes felt that any attempt to attract outside capital would be increasingly compromised by not thinking beyond the MTFS period.


In response, officers gave assurances that the report had been reviewed by the Council’s Legal services. Swim England would be consulted as part of the consultation process. With regard to the commercial position of EHL, it was noted that the Council had been working with EHL who had provided usage data. There had been no specific issues around ongoing viability raised by EHL to the Council’s leisure commissioning team through the discussions which had been ongoing for several months.


Cllr Anderson attended the meeting as a visiting member and Trustee of Everybody Health and Leisure. Cllr Anderson raised a number of concerns including the impact on employment at EHL, the decommissioning costs, the impact on waiting lists if the number of swimming pools were reduced, the data not including groups. Cllr Anderson advised that EHL were committed to working with Cheshire East to find a mutually agreeable way forward.


Cllr Kolker spoke as a visiting member and Trustee of Everybody Health and Leisure. Cllr Kolker understood the financial pressures on the Council but did not support the approach outlined in the report and was concerned about the sites being joint use and impacting schools. Cllr Kolker stated that school usage figures needed to be included in the analysis to get a true indication of centre usage. There were currently 10,700 children on learn to swim schemes with a waiting list of 3000 and Cllr Kolker stated that the same level of service could not be provided with two fewer schools.


Cllr Coan spoke as a visiting member and stated that he had received extensive correspondence from residents. There was no public transport from Knutsford to Wilmslow in the morning or evening. There was currently an 18 month waiting list for swimming lessons in Knutsford. Residents relied on the leisure centre for health and recovery from illness and Cllr Coan asked the committee to reject the proposals in the report and instead ask officers to work with EHL to bring back proposals for consultation that delivers budget savings but retains leisure facilities in key service centres.


During consideration of the item, the committee resolved to move into the part 2 to consider the confidential report and appendices.


The committee moved back into part 1 for the debate in which the following points were raised:


·         Cheshire East had an obligation to provide swimming facilities for Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils, however the report did not set out how this would be met if the consultation led to closure. Some schools had indicated to members that they would not be able to fulfil their statutory duties without access to swimming pools and sports sites

·         There would be an impact on Cheshire East’s carbon neutrality targets if residents were travelling further to access leisure facilities

·         Concerns about the capacity of other sites and how they would accommodate increased users

·         There appeared to be no recognition of the cost of exiting current joint use agreements with schools

·         Some members felt that the matter was at risk of predetermination

·         There were concerns about how the data was collected and used. Some members felt that the data was flawed and did not reflect the full usage

·         Sport England had assessed Poynton to be a facility in demand with a lack of proximity to other swimming pools and facilities

·         Money earmarked for Poynton Leisure Centre had not been utilised and, had that investment taken place, the leisure centre may not be in the current position

·         There was a need to ensure creative thinking to prevent the reduction in facilities

·         There was a risk of penalising young people inadvertently

·         Members had received extensive correspondence from residents opposing the proposals

·         There was recognition that the Council was facing financial difficulty and funds needed to be available for statutory services

·         Leisure facilities support health outcomes for residents and therefore impact other areas of the Council

·         Input was needed from wider stakeholders

·         There was concern that if the consultation runs over the Christmas period there may be missed opportunities for engagement


A query was raised as to why there was no weighting to reflect usage as a percentage of the population in each area. Officers undertook to provide a written response.


A further query was raised as to whether the Council had bids in for the next phase of swimming pool grants for 2024-25 and on which sites. Officers advised that a bid was in for the next round of capital allocation to implement further carbon measures on facilities. The detail of which sites this would be for was not available during the meeting but could be provided in a written response.


An amendment was moved and seconded which sought to amend recommendation 2 in the report to the following:


2. Authorise the Interim Director of Environment and Neighbourhood Services to carry out public consultation, following consultation with the Environment and Communities Committee, based on the proposals to deliver the Medium-Term Financial Strategy line 90 Strategic Leisure Review savings


This was carried unanimously and became part of the substantive proposition.


RESOLVED (unanimously):


That the Environment and Communities Committee:


1. Note the objectives of and progress to date of the work to bring forward the Strategic Leisure Review alongside its contribution to delivering the Council’s Medium-Term Financial Strategy, as adopted at council on 22 February 2023;


2. Authorise the Interim Director of Environment and Neighbourhood Services to carry out public consultation, following consultation with the Environment and Communities Committee, based on the proposals to deliver the Medium-Term Financial Strategy line 90 Strategic Leisure Review savings and;


3. Note that following the consultation process, a report will be brought back to Committee setting out the final proposed delivery model and the financial implications of a proposed investment plan.

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