Agenda item

Future Options for Maidstone Leisure Centre


Councillor Russell, the Lead Member for Leisure and Arts, introduced a report setting out future options for Maidstone Leisure Centre given the impending expiry of the current operator’s contract, the condition of the building and the Council’s commitment to promoting health and well-being.  The Lead Member explained that:


·  The purpose of the report was to provide an update on the current position and the background to that.  She had introduced Option 3D (Minor Practical Improvements to the Existing Leisure Centre) because, in the current economic climate, she did not consider the time was right to embark on what would represent one of the biggest capital projects for the Council.


·  In early 2022, cost estimates were obtained for the refurbishment of the existing leisure centre and new facilities and the refurbishment (£30m) was almost as expensive as a new build (£35m).  Since being obtained, these estimates would have increased significantly due to inflation and supply chain challenges.  Borrowing costs to finance the project had also increased resulting in additional financial challenges.


·  The new build and refurbishment figures were based on conventional building methods.  A Passivhaus construction would be more expensive initially but would have potential for lower running costs.


·  In response to increasing construction costs and interest rates, a menu of minor improvements had also been compiled (Option 3D) which could deliver an uplift in services, increase energy performance and target new business opportunities in the medium term.  The changes involved reconfiguring the reception area, the office spaces and the café terrace area to separate the pools from the indoor play areas, create a new space to extend the indoor play offering and improve customer flow.  More work was now needed to develop the business case.  The thinking behind a new leisure centre, its location, design and facilities would continue as the cost of maintaining the existing building was escalating.


Councillor Cleator, Visiting Member, addressed the Committee in support of investment in a new centrally located leisure centre (Mote Park) arguing that it would deliver economic, social and environmental benefits.  She cautioned against a refurbishment project as this could lead to additional costs being incurred.


In response to comments/questions:


The Lead Member confirmed/explained that:


·  The current capital programme had a budget provision of £35m for the leisure centre.


·  She could not recommend that the Council proceed with building a new leisure centre without being clear about what it should look like, where it should be and what it would cost because of the need to be responsible with taxpayers’ money.


·  In terms of the distribution of facilities, the Hub and Spoke was not the favoured model.  The favoured model was to keep the leisure centre within the Borough’s resident base and 80% of residents were living around the existing facility (Centrally Located model).


The Leisure Manager confirmed that:


·  The figures set out in the report would be subject to construction uplift which was estimated to be around 15-20% depending on the type of project/materials etc.  The increase in the cost of borrowing also needed to be factored in.  The figures were not for a Passivhaus design which would be more expensive.


·  Option 3D would not include any solar panels to the roof to provide energy for the leisure centre.  It involved internal changes only to reduce the amount of energy used rather than generating any energy on site.


·  The current contract for the operation of the leisure centre with Maidstone Leisure Trust which in turn employed Serco Leisure Limited to run the centre would expire in 2024.  The Leisure Trust was a voluntary group of Maidstone residents who used the leisure centre.  The extension of the contract was possible subject to all parties agreeing terms.


During the discussion, Councillor Burton, the Leader of the Council, explained that it would be necessary to borrow to fund the Leisure Centre project.  Interest rates had gone up which meant that the borrowing costs to finance the project had also increased.  The Executive was committed to having the very best facilities for Maidstone that were possible and to reducing energy costs and the negative carbon impacts of the leisure centre.


It had been moved by Councillor Harper, seconded by Councillor Naghi:


1.  That the report be noted.

2.  That the Executive be recommended to adopt Option 1B Hub and Spoke distribution of facilities as set out in paragraph 2.7 of the report.

3.  That the Executive be recommended to adopt Option 3C New Facilities, and that work be undertaken to prepare a fully costed proposal.


When put to the vote, the motion was lost.


RESOLVED:  That the report be noted.


Note:  Councillor Hastie entered the meeting during consideration of this item (6.52 p.m.).  She said that she had no disclosures of interest or of lobbying.


Supporting documents: