Southwell Leisure Centre UpdatePosted on: Wednesday, February 7, 2024
In 2021, Newark and Sherwood District Council (NSDC) took over the management of Southwell Leisure Centre. The Centre is owned by a Charity, Southwell Leisure Centre Trust, who could not afford to maintain it. The Centre is 60 years old and the swimming pool had to be closed as there was a substantial leak. The District Council wishes to build a new swimming pool and is committing £5.5m to do so.
Continuing with the same transparency as we have always shown in relation to Southwell Leisure Centre, we found some questions for us within a social media group. We have answered these within that group but also copied them all below.
Why are the details of the repair quote such a big secret?
The details of the repair quote are not a big secret and whoever is suggesting this is misleading the public. It’s been rumoured that the District Council has inflated the repair price so it can close the pool. That’s complete rubbish. Why would the Council do that and have to spend £5.5 million on a new facility? It’s absolutely the case that the District Council will not repair the current pool and pay for a new one. That’s a perfectly reasonable position to take and there are lots of communities in Newark and Sherwood that would love the offer of a new pool.
The breakdown of the estimated repair costs have been shared with Southwell Leisure Centre Trust and people can read all about the background in the two reports that the Council’s Cabinet considered in public. They are available on our website at https://democracy.newark-sherwooddc.gov.uk/documents/s18037/31.10.23%20-%20Southwell%20Leisure%20Centre%20Works.pdf and https://democracy.newark-sherwooddc.gov.uk/documents/s18506/19.12.23%20-%20Southwell%20Leisure%20Centre%20Pool%20Works.pdf
The Council Leader and Chief Executive are meeting with representatives of the swimming club and the idea that Newark and Sherwood District Council is secretive or has a hidden agenda is frankly nonsense.
The Chairman of the Leisure Centre Trust has been quoted on social media as having repair estimates between £100,000 and £150,000. Has anyone ever seen these estimates? Where are they? He has also publicly quoted a very different target repair figure of £250,000. Again, what is that based on? Where’s the evidence of this? If there is any secrecy or lack of openness, it is not with the District Council. Where are the agendas, minutes and reports of the Trust? Where does it meet? Why are its meetings private?
Two months have already been lost since the District Council decided to invest in a new pool and this delay is down to the Trust. It’s another two months without a swimming pool.
Why were there not three repair quotes sought as per NSDC procurement policy?
The District Council’s estimated repair cost was put together by qualified surveyors based on prices from other jobs and an estimate from a pool specialist. If the District Council had decided to repair the pool, it would have gone out to tender at that point and sought three quotations. Since the District Council has decided to replace not repair the pool, it hasn’t gone out to tender for a repair. This is normal process and nothing unusual.
Why did NSDC not conduct an equality impact assessment (EIA) before making the decision to close our* pool?
The pool was closed because it was leaking thousands of litres of water a day and because the safety of members of the public could not be guaranteed. Southwell Leisure Centre Trust agreed to its closure. Carrying out an equalities impact assessment doesn’t trump health and safety requirements and speaking of equalities, if an EIA had been carried out, it would have confirmed that the current pool does not fully meet the needs of people with disabilities.
Why did NSDC ignore our* initial petition where we urged you (NSDC) to delay making your decision until proper consultation and a thorough investigation had taken place?
The District Council closed the pool before the petition was presented and after a full investigation had been carried out. It would have been disingenuous to ask people if they wanted the pool to be repaired and replaced because doing both wasn’t an affordable option. And who should the District Council consult? Just the town, or taxpayers across the whole District who pay for the pool and the leisure centre? This idea that the pool belongs only to the town needs kicking into touch. It’s factually incorrect and overlooks the reality that the pool serves a much wider catchment than the town of Southwell and is paid for by a much wider catchment than the town of Southwell. Local attachment to, and local involvement in, community facilities is something that the District Council supports 100% but this “it’s ours” and “it belongs to us” attitude is unhelpful.
Why do NSDC expect the town to ‘gift’ the leisure centre and pool to them?
It doesn’t. It’s offering £5.5million plus! At the moment, the leisure centre and the pool is owned by Southwell Leisure Centre Trust. This Trust or Charity is a group of local Councillors. The Trust has no money and no management responsibility. It doesn’t actually do anything; it simply owns the land. The Trust handed the leisure centre over to Newark and Sherwood District Council because it couldn’t afford to look after it. The District Council didn’t have to step in, but it did so to prevent the Centre from closing. There is no way that the District Council is going to spend £5.5million on a new pool or continue to invest in an old building that it does not own. Would anyone else do that? Of course not. Newark and Sherwood District Council is saying that it will invest money to keep the Centre open and to provide a new swimming facility and, in the longer-term, provide a new Centre. In return, it wants ownership of the land, to protect its investment and to stop this constant to-ing and fro-ing between the District Council and the Trust that most people don’t understand and don’t care about. Some representatives of the Trust are trying to make out that it is unlawful and undeliverable for the Trust to transfer its land to the District Council. That’s not true and there are better ways to involve local people in the running of the leisure centre than through a Trust that is not representative of its customer base and has no real role or purpose. The District Council wants to work directly with users of the leisure centre, it wants to involve the swimming club in designing a new pool, it wants to develop a new facility that is accessible to all members of the community, and it wants to work with Southwell Town Council. It wants to do this instead of working with the Trust.
Why are the NSDC Councillors still on the board of the leisure centre trustees despite there being an enormous conflict of interest? Keith Melton Lib Dem sat in the Cabinet meeting on 19 December and voted to close the pool and yet appears to still be making decisions as a leisure centre trustee.
This is a very one-sided question that is misleading and unfair. Newark and Sherwood District Council Councillors are part of the Trust because that’s what the membership of the charity requires. Seems perfectly reasonable given that it’s Newark and Sherwood District Council that pays for the Centre and runs the Centre through its leisure company. Councillor Melton quite properly declared an interest at the meeting referred to and reached the view that there was no actual conflict that would prevent him from participating. Again, nothing underhand, nothing done in secret. If what lies beneath this question is a concern about the operation of the Trust and the way that it is being governed, the District Council shares this concern. The Trust is spending time and maybe even taxpayers’ money on things like who can speak, who can vote, what this bit of the lease says, who has a conflict of interest etc... Nobody cares about this stuff when they’re in the pool, in the gym or having a game of badminton. The Trust needs to focus on what’s in the best interests of its beneficiaries.
Why has NSDC not shared any plans about what kind of pool we can expect to be built?
The District Council’s plans and cost estimates are based on a 25-metre new pool and separate learner pool, located within a new, permanent (not modular) building. We haven’t got any plans to share because we haven’t developed any yet. The District Council is waiting for the Trust to give its support to transfer their land to build a new pool. If that support isn’t forthcoming swiftly, the District Council will consider (1) withdrawing its proposed investment and (2) taking steps to end its relationship with the Trust and the leisure centre. The District Council doesn’t want to do this, it doesn’t think it is in the best interests of the local community, but ultimately the Trust owns the land and without its support, the District Council cannot move forward. The Trust has until 20 February 2024 to make its decision.
* these questions were taken directly from a social media group. The ‘our’ referenced in the questions refers to the social media group from which these questions were taken.