By KLTV Newsdesk –
[UPDATE: 29/09/2023] The page for the consultation is now live. Have your say here.
In a bid to address budgetary concerns and ensure the sustainability of its leisure centres, Kirklees Council’s Cabinet Members yesterday (26 September) greenlit a six-week consultation period on proposed alterations to the district’s leisure centre offerings.
Since 2002, Kirklees’ eleven leisure centres have been operated by the external charity Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL), while the council has borne the financial responsibility for maintaining the physical structures.
The ongoing financial burden became exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic when extended closures of pools and sports centres led to a significant loss of revenue.
Recognising the challenges faced by KAL, the council increased its annual grant to the charity, providing an additional £9.96 million alongside the core funding of £6 million between April 2021 and April 2024.
However, due to their current financial situation, which includes needing to make savings of £47.8 million by February 2024, the council can only allocate a grant of £2.55 million for the upcoming fiscal year.
Kirklees Active Leisure has informed the council that, without additional funding, they will be compelled to reduce their services.
The primary factor driving this necessity is the escalating costs associated with operating leisure centres, including energy, staffing, and maintenance expenses. In KAL centres alone, utility costs have surged from approximately £1 million to £4 million.
This predicament is not unique to Kirklees, as research conducted in November 2022 indicated that 40% of council areas in the UK were at risk of losing their leisure centres and swimming pools, with 65 pools having closed in the three years leading up to March 2022, according to UKActive.
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The council is now seeking public input during the six-week consultation period to determine which leisure centres should be retained to ensure continued access to swimming, sports, and exercise throughout the district.
Under the proposal, flagship centres such as Huddersfield Leisure Centre and Spen Valley Leisure Centre in the North and South of the district, respectively, will continue to operate.
Additionally, six “marginal” sites, requiring either a lower level of financial support or additional time to secure funding or explore alternative options, will remain open in the next fiscal year.
The “marginal” sites include Holmfirth Pool & Fitness Suite, Bradley Park Golf Course, Scissett Baths and Fitness Centre (potentially, if funding from Sports England is secured), and Stadium Health & Fitness Club (temporarily, to resolve complex leasing arrangements and explore commercial opportunities).
Deighton Sports Arena is slated to cease operations in November 2023, but other operating models, such as community asset transfer, are being considered.
Furthermore, the council is contemplating permanently closing three centres—Dewsbury Sports Centre, Batley Sports & Tennis Centre, and Colne Valley Leisure Centre.
These sites require a more considerable council contribution for operation and substantial capital investment for repairs and maintenance over the next three years.
Residents of the areas that have seen their centres close have been campaigning over the last year.
Councillor Graham Turner, Cabinet Member for Finance and Regeneration, expressed the challenges faced by the council, emphasizing their commitment to preserving leisure services despite economic constraints.
He 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 sports 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.”
The public consultation, which aims to gauge the impact of these proposals on local residents, will inform the final decision set to be made at the Cabinet Meeting in December.
The consultation period will commence on the council’s website on Friday, 29 September.