Rother council leaders have signed-off on a short-term contract with a leisure operator, in an effort to buy time “to consider future options” for its ageing facilities in Bexhill.
On Monday (December 11), Rother District Council’s cabinet agreed for the authority to seek a new contract with Freedom Leisure to run Bexhill Leisure Centre and Leisure Pool, facilities officers say are in need of significant investment .
If successful, the new contract would only be expected to last two years (from the end of the current contract in March 2024 to April 2026), a period of time officers describe as “very short by industry standards.”
Cllr Hazel Timpe, whose cabinet portfolio includes leisure, told councillors the new contract would be intended to give the council the necessary time to work out its next steps, rather than provide a long term solution.
She said: “This is really to allow the facilities to continue to operate whilst we look at all the future options that we’ve got in our portfolio … at the moment.
“The facilities are all ageing. There is significant capital investment required if we want to reduce carbon emissions and recent surveys indicate a minimum investment required in these buildings [of] £2.1m in … structure, plant and machinery, without any improvements in the outfitting or internal decor.
“The new two-year contract would be on the same terms as the current contract, which is nill revenue cost to the council and will include a small amount of capital investment to support some improvements to the fixtures and fittings.”
She added: “Without significant capital investment from the council, these facilities are going to be in major trouble. So, in conclusion, we must have a short-term two-year contract with Freedom Leisure to allow us to look at the future of these sites and if required secure a long-term sustainable operator to manage the council’s leisure facilities.”
In a report to cabinet, officers say continuing to run the facilities in their current state (without the significant investment identified) would significantly impact the council’s ability to procure a contract of meaningful length in future, as well as risk increased costs and poor service provision
In effect, the new contract would be an extension of the council’s current contract with Freedom Leisure. Officers say this is because the short term does not allow for new operational specifications to be built in without incurring additional costs to the Council.
However, Rother District Council has already agreed to set aside £60,000 for minor improvements at the facilities during this new contract period.
Cabinet members are expected to look at the long-term plans for the leisure facilities as part of a future report. Officers say this is expected to detail the options available after April 2026.
Officers have warned that the council is unlikely to achieve “a revenue neutral position” beyond this date without significant capital investment, either into refurbishing the existing centres or through the development of new facilities.