National Cuts, Local Effects

Each of the three main local news sites covering Rugby has an article pertinent to the round of cutbacks we are all going to be experiencing.

The Rugby Observer reports that the Police Station in town will only be open to the public from the front desk for 12 hours a day, starting next Monday (1 Nov). The Cov/Warks Telegraph highlights a study which suggests that between them, Coventry and Warwickshire will be losing 16,000 public sector jobs with nearly 40,000 more in the private sector put at risk. The report suggests that Warwickshire could be badly hit, and towns like Rugby and Stratford have vulnerable private firms.

Mind you, on the other side, the Advertiser brings news that Rugby Borough Council is hoping to replace the Ken Marriott Leisure Centre with a new facility. This was covered at the Cabinet meeting last week. There it was agreed to commit £200,000 of capital to investigating tenders for the project.

Now, as much as it would be great to have a new Leisure Centre, it seems a bit incongruous to spent a six-figure sum on a project that might not even go ahead, let alone the likely millions that the full build would require, at a time when the Government and councils are cutting spending.

At the same meeting, the Cabinet discussed (I say ‘discussed’, it was more nodded through) a report on the money stuck in Icelandic banks. Rugby had about £3M in two banks. Landsbanki, with about £1M is agreeing to pay back 95% of the money over the next eight years – as long as the overall plan is not successfully challenged by other creditors. In terms of lost interest and depreciation, this would represent a loss of about £400,000 by the time all the money is returned.

The other bank, Glitnir, had the remaining £2M, but the offer there is only 38%. The council are challenging that one, of course, but if it goes that way, the end result means that about half of the original £3M would be lost.

With that background, what are the Council going to use to pay for a new Leisure Centre?

The future of the Ken Marriott Leisure Centre

I’ve been interested in the Leisure Centre since I moved up here, as it’s just round the corner, and especially since it was discussed in the Town Hall.

I was a bit busy at the end of August and start of September, and so couldn’t get to the latest meeting of the Borough Council’s ‘Ken Marriott Leisure Centre Task Group‘ on the 3rd. Now that the minutes of that meeting have been up for a while, I thought I’d see if anything new had cropped up.

The short-term future is as before. DC Leisure has a contract until March 2010, and Rugby Borough Council have already determined to extend that for another three years to allow time to explore more options.

The current situation seems to be that a recent change of management has led to improvements in responsiveness. In particular, cleanliness had been an issue and since new procedures were put in place the number of customer complaints had dropped. Free swimming for the over 60s has had a good take-up, and overall activities had seen increases in custom. This suggests that the Leisure Centre is doing better and attracting more people.

Now, to the future.

The process has already started. There has already been some work done to take a strategic overview of current needs for the town, but this has been behind the scenes with CBRE – a consultancy firm – being retained. This Stage 1 activity is going to end soon.

Stage 2 is about to go out to tender, and has two parts. Part B is ‘Options Analysis’, which will mean looking at the possible ways forward:

  • Total refurbishment of the Ken Marriott, with some new build
  • Partial refurbishment of the KMLC with some new build
  • Rebuild on the present site
  • Rebuild at a new site

These are not necessarily the only options, and they aren’t mandated either.

Part A is consultation, but this will not be full public consultation. The idea is to look at market trends and how other areas have developed their leisure facilities, and also to find ‘key stakeholders’ such as sports clubs, user groups etc and get information about what their needs and expectations are. However, this will not be a case of simply asking people what they want. It’s more likely that a set of options will be presented. Apparently this is to avoid creating ‘wish lists’.

From these two parts will come reports to the Council which will lay out the options and what kind of facilities and activities should be provided. At that point, the wider public will get a chance to see what the options are, before the Council make a decision. This is unlikely to be until the second half of 2010. Implementation is likely to be over 2011-2013, although of course a lot depends on what is decided.

Until then, I’ll keep an eye out to see what crops up.

So what is happening to the Ken Marriott?

ken marriott leisure centreThe quick answer is nothing yet.

The reason I ask in the first place? Well, at the last Full Council meeting, Rugby BC considered two items relating to the Ken Marriott Leisure Centre. However, as they were in the private section of the Agenda (known as ‘Part 2′ or Part B’), I wasn’t able to see what they were looking at. No bother, I thought, it’ll be clearer when they’ve made their decision, because then some information will go into the public domain.

However, when I saw the minutes of the meeting on the council’s website (link) all it shows is:

Council considered the private report of Cabinet of 22nd June 2009.

the report be confirmed and adopted.

Which tells us nothing at all. From the agenda, and from the Cabinet meeting, I already knew that there were two parts of the report:

1) The Ken Marriott Leisure Centre – Next Stages & Financial Approvals Required to Prepare a Business Case for its Repair/Refurbishment/Rebuild. Cabinet have agreed to spend up to £35,000 an ‘options appraisal and preparation of a business case’.

2) Extension of the Leisure Centre Contract for Ken Marriott Leisure Centre and Benn Hall with DC Leisure Management. This is to run from April 2010 for three years, and a saving of £13,000 a year is to be put into the budget.

I called the Town Hall today, to see what else I could find out. I’m curious because I live quite near to the Ken Marriott, and because when I was on Crawley Borough Council I was involved in the decision to rebuild the old leisure centre and replace it with the brand new K2 facility. The old Crawley Leisure Centre was about the same age as the Ken Marriott, although it was larger and served a larger population.

Speaking to someone from the Sports and Recreation Team, it becomes obvious that the council are in the very early stages of looking at this. They are going to get some consultants in to do the options appraisal, and while that will likely involve talking to representatives of user groups, wider public consultation is only going to happen when the options are more clearly known.

Rugby does not have the same position that Crawley had. We started to consider a rebuild in about 2000/2001. The county council was also about to start a programme of replacing and updating most of their school buildings in the town. The county was also looking to build a new library (they’d been promising it for over 20 years). The old Leisure centre site was in a position close to the town centre and good for transport, so made a good prospect for housing development, and the council also had a large amount in capital reserves, as well as other land that could be sold for already planned development.

So, after a land deal with West Sussex County Council – A car park in the town centre was transferred to West Sussex CC for the Library and fields near a school that was being rebuilt and wanted to become a Sport specialist college given to the Borough for K2 – and the sale of some land for housing at a time when the market was in a good state, the overall capital cost was low and the annual savings by having a more efficient and more popular building meant that it was a good deal.

However, Rugby BC is in a different position. Land prices for development are low, and I don’t know how much the council owns anyway. They don’t appear to have large capital reserves to fall back on (and indeed are currently waiting to get back £3M from an Icelandic bank), and I’m not aware of a major school building programme that they can work alongside (it’s called ‘creating synergies’). So, options could well be more limited.

Still, it’s interesting to know a little more about what’s happening, and to get an idea of how long it will be before a real decision is going to be made (we are talking about a year or I suppose, with a few years before we see any effect, depending on the financial situation).