Author Topic: SBC's sell-off of sports facilities - consequences show its real cost  (Read 21155 times)

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Offline Tobes

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http://swindonlink.com/2015/05/link-centre-sports-hall-to-be-turned-into-extreme-trampoline-park-sports-groups-and-climbers-upset/

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Users of the Link Centre sports hall and climbing wall have hit out at a plan to close an important community based sport and recreation facility.

Although Link Centre management company GLL has shelved the idea of relocating the library in the building upstairs and creating a giant ground floor gym where the library is now, they have now come up with the idea of an extreme trampoline park covering 1,200 square metres.

This means all the community sport and recreation groups, activities and classes will have to be relocated or closed.

It also means the largest climbing wall in the region will be shut down.


Hall users are up in arms. Quite rightly, in my opinion

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the move has horrified Val Hague from Haydon Wick who swims at the centre and plays badminton in the sports hall. “I’ve been a direct debit member for 17 years, but I’ll be looking elsewhere. I imagine hundreds of others will too.

“As an accountant I cannot believe Better are going to risk their underlying subscription income for a new idea that could turn out to be a fad brought in from the USA.

“The community is going to lose a central location for fitness classes, basketball, martial arts clubs, badminton, roller hockey, 5-a-side football and kids coaching, wheelchair rugby and disability access days for schools.”

Martin Newman, secretary of Swindon Mountaineering Club, said his members are upset to learn of the closure of The Ridge climbing wall. “Prior to the transfer of Link Centre to Better, the club asked council representatives at the Swindon Sports Forum about the future of the wall and we were given an assurance that the climbing wall would continue after the facilities had been transferred.

“Residents of Swindon were given a wider assurance that the current level of services and facilities would be continued after being transferred to Better.

“The wall was built with a lottery grant of £74,000 from Sport England. We think it is disgraceful that a lottery funded facility can be closed by a private company in this way.

“Swindon Mountaineering Club was a key stakeholder when the lottery bid was being prepared, writing a letter of support, accompanying council staff on visits to other climbing walls and commenting on the design, yet we have not been consulted on this decision.

“Climbing is one of the few sports currently growing in popularity and the wall is normally busy.

“This closure might be more understandable if a new alternative had been built in Swindon, that is taking away business, this is clearly not the case. The Ridge is a good climbing wall and it is the only such facility in Swindon, with the nearest alternatives an hour away in Bristol or Reading.”

A petition has been launched to save The Ridge at Change.org



In my view, the purpose of a versatile space like a sports hall is to provide a wide diversity of activities for the local community. The long list of activities which take place there now is NOT a fair exchange for a single offering - however financially lucrative it might be for GLL/Better.

I've spoken to some climbers today and they are up in arms, as they say they were given public assurances during the consultation process that the climbing wall would be protected.

Another SBC cock-up?

How can any serving councillor have the brass balls to pretend to anyone that assurances are worth the hot air when it comes to protecting public facilities and assets from this kind of thing?

What terms did they draft?


I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it - [attributed to] Voltaire... 'Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessita' - William of Occam.... 'You have a right to feel offended, but just cos you are offended doesn't mean you are right'

Offline Geoff Reid

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Given that SBC have given our leisure facilities to the private sector, I note that our council tax hasn't dropped accordingly.

Council Tax remains at its highest ever level and yet SBC continues to cut or abandon services, pour our money into vanity schemes and pay large monthly amounts of interest on loans to fund the same.

Offline the gorgon

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 :bash:

You know what I'd like to see a referendum to have SBC merge with Wiltshire Council, then these below-par town councillors we have will have jobs in Swindon Town Council that more fitting with their abilities or lack of.

I'm sure WC aren't perfect but they don't seem to be anywhere near as inept as the shower we have now.

Offline Muggins

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Blimey Gorgon, can't you remember what it was like when half our stuff was with Wiltshire County Council and there was high jinks trying to get things done, i.e. Swindon had it's own County Councillors. And as to quality - David Glaholm was one.  :coolsmiley:

It's not just our council that is selling off assets, it's a government edict, and the reason they are selling them off, is so they don't have to put UP the community charge, let alone actually reducing it. 

If they don't put up the charge, they have a better chance of getting elected.  So instead we have a reduction on services.

And so long have they kept the charge as it I, that the reduction in services is becoming - no already is - frightening!

I feel I'm endlessly repeating myself when I say that there is no enforcement in SBC, so if they let to an agreement, it is unlikely that that agreement will be adhered to or overseen. They simply don't have enough staff left so to do.

If sold on, how can they intervene - they've sold their and therefore our, interest in it.

Makes you wonder if a car park full of trampolines will attract greater usage, so is more wanted than what's there now.

But I would have something to say about the Library going upstairs! The Library is a community service, probably more used by young and old, who could do without the stairs and juggling in a lift.
Oi! Listen mush. Old eyes, remember? I’ve been around the block a few times. More than a few. They’ve knocked down the blocks I’ve been around and rebuilt them as bigger blocks. Super blocks. And I’ve been round them as well.  The Doctor (Night Terrors)

Offline the gorgon

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Perhaps it's rose tinted glasses syndrome  :hippy: or just sheer frustration with the bunch of prats we've got running the council now (in that it can't get much worse).

Offline Donian

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Given that SBC have given our leisure facilities to the private sector, I note that our council tax hasn't dropped accordingly.

Council Tax remains at its highest ever level and yet SBC continues to cut or abandon services, pour our money into vanity schemes and pay large monthly amounts of interest on loans to fund the same.

As you point out the council has a lot of debt so it makes sense for any additional income to help service this and there has been investment projects whether you agree with them or not. Council tax has been frozen for the last five years which is a real terms decrease so I don't know how you can justify it's the highest ever? There's even laws in place which gives residents the power to veto "excessive" council tax rises (above 2%).

Offline I Could Do That

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That's interesting.
Could you elaborate on these laws and explain the enforcement procedure please
Proud to be gone

Offline Donian

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I'm not going to quote the sections but it's the Local Government Finance Act 1992. A summary:

"The principles for 2014-15 specified that a referendum was to be held if council tax was increased by 2% or more by local authorities, Police and Crime Commissioners, and fire and rescue authorities."

http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN03409.pdf

Enforcement? The council simply wouldn't legally be able to collect more than 2% without a referendum - and there has been one:

http://www.lgcplus.com/news/no-vote-in-first-council-tax-referendum/5084900.article


Offline Tobes

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As you point out the council has a lot of debt so it makes sense for any additional income to help service this and there has been investment projects whether you agree with them or not. Council tax has been frozen for the last five years which is a real terms decrease so I don't know how you can justify it's the highest ever? There's even laws in place which gives residents the power to veto "excessive" council tax rises (above 2%).

How many of Swindon's residents would seriously object to some small percentage increases in their council tax to at least partly offset the cuts imposed by national government? I suspect that if the council were honest about the reasons rather than ideologically wedded to their ability to boast about 'no increases at all', that a majority of Swindon's voters and council tax payers would actually endorse them for being brave.

All of that is moot however - what DOES appear to be clear is that the ironically named BETTER seem to have been given carte blanch to reinterpret the facilities within their grasp with no reference to existing user groups, or ensuring a local diversity of whats on offer.

Personally, I have no problem with the idea of PFI, if the new incumbent organisation can really prove that it maintains the core purpose of the service it's running. Turning a profit is one thing, but making a mint using facilities which other people paid for to be used for other purposes stretches things somewhat.

I would like to see the terms of the deal between better and the borough made public - as it would seem that any protections are likely to be minimal at best.

What we are likely to be looking at in Swindon as far as I can understand from Better's operating model, is the conversion of lots of squash courts to the usual MTV pumping mirror covered poseurs work-out rooms and other single-use faddish (and upon research, far from unique) visitor attractions like the proposed single-use 'trampolinium'.

That approach ignores that the primary purpose of a civic funded and owned sports facility is to provide the widest diversity of use possible for the indigenous local tax payer. Its not been entrusted to them as something in which to indulge mass-marketing experiments (with a potentially very limited, if lucrative) appeal.
I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it - [attributed to] Voltaire... 'Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessita' - William of Occam.... 'You have a right to feel offended, but just cos you are offended doesn't mean you are right'

Offline Muggins

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The enforcement I was talking about is the enforcement to keep the organisation taking over the facility, to keep within the remit of that agreement.

A sure way of finding out whether or not that is being done is to let the populous know what that agreement is - it doesn't have to be every fine detail, but a something bigger that Mission statement.

And maybe we ought to see that BEFORE the facility is passed over.
Oi! Listen mush. Old eyes, remember? I’ve been around the block a few times. More than a few. They’ve knocked down the blocks I’ve been around and rebuilt them as bigger blocks. Super blocks. And I’ve been round them as well.  The Doctor (Night Terrors)

Offline Terry Reynolds

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this closure is the now the second one that these new 'owners' have put in, as profit before anything else mattters, do you remember when the first one was in the adver, the council leader said he was going to have words with them, but if it is a signed up contract, what can he do apart from blow in the wind, nothing, interest payments now are around 10 million a year, in two years time the projected debt of this council is said to be around the 300 million mark, what interest payments then and what council ltax rises also...

Offline Spunkymonkey

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Whilst I am surprised at the decision to ditch the climbing wall, changes were always inevitable.

The council initiated the deal by putting the leisure centres out to tender in the first place. The council could have written strict clauses in to the contracts, but the council wanted to sell and strict clauses restrict demand and lower price. The council wanted a sale at the best price.

It was always a no win situation. If the leisure centres were making a profit then why not keep them? If they were making a loss and a private company can waltz in and make a profit without making any changes then surely this would be proof of council mismanagement in the past. How do you write a contract that says we expect you do exactly what we were already doing, but do it better? Changes were inevitable.

If you sell your house, you can't complain if the new owners redecorate the living room no matter how much you liked it as it was.

I think it is a shame that SBC sold the leisure centres. They were always a bit shabby compared with privately run gyms, but they were affordable for most people. Private gyms often require a £40-50/month subscription with a minimum 12 month contract.

I don't really agree with argument about a greedy private owner chasing profit. What about the greedy public sector owner who sold it in the first place? A short sighted decision by SBC in my opinion.

Offline Tobes

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If you sell your house, you can't complain if the new owners redecorate the living room no matter how much you liked it as it was.

I'd say a fairer analogy would be of a grade listed house; its grade listed because its of interest and value to the wider community. The grade listing (along with restrictions in deeds as well) restricts what any new owner can do. It doesn;t stop them making changes - but it makes a set of rules to protect the basic fabric of the building.

In the case of a sports hall, nothing wrong with change - but as I said at the outset, its about maintaining a basic level of provision - and key to what a sports hall in a community is the diversity of offering.

Otherwise it would be like a PFI arrangement with a hospital in which the new commercial partner decided to empty the largest ward to turn it into a specialist unit for nose- and boob jobs, because that brings in the most profit.

This is the sporting equivalent in my view.
I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it - [attributed to] Voltaire... 'Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessita' - William of Occam.... 'You have a right to feel offended, but just cos you are offended doesn't mean you are right'

Offline Spunkymonkey

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Tobes, I completely agree. I wasn't in favour of selling off the leisure centres.

The problem was the council WANTED to sell. That put them in a difficult position of having to write a contract which protected services but still made the sale attractive. If they put too many restrictions on use, would the deal have attracted a buyer at a good price?

I agree that sports halls should be available to the wider community and not just for a single use. There are plenty of private gyms with plush changing rooms and a luxury feel to them. The town also needs more basic affordable facilities.

A trampoline park seems an odd choice, but I assume that it is a unique selling point. They will have removed competition by providing something that no one else can. The public can play badminton elsewhere even if it is inconvenient to them. Council run multi-use leisure centres offered convenience, but perhaps there is more money in specialist centres. Football at the Oasis, tennis at the Delta, badminton at Grange Drive, squash at Wroughton etc. Not very convenient especially for people who rely on public transport, but possibly more profitable.

As a teenager, I used to play 5 aside football at Wroughton sports hall. We used to pay for an hour but always lost 10 minutes, kicking off badminton players and putting their nets away. In this sense dedicated sports centres are possibly more efficient/profitable and might allow for better equipment/facilities.

Selling off the leisure centres was always going to result in a cut in services, although the council prefer to call these efficiency savings. I would be happy to pay more council tax to protect these services. I would be in favour of subsidising sports facilities. If we can stop chubby kids from becoming obese adults, the taxpayer may save money in the long term. On the other hand the NHS might be inundated by somersaulting grannies queuing up for hip replacements.

I think a trampoline park will encourage more kids than a traditional sports centre, but at the expense of older  users. Kids don't seem to be satisfied with simple games anymore. You can't even go ten pin bowling without flashing lights and fluorescent balls these days.

Offline Tobes

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As a teenager, I used to play 5 aside football at Wroughton sports hall. We used to pay for an hour but always lost 10 minutes, kicking off badminton players and putting their nets away. In this sense dedicated sports centres are possibly more efficient/profitable and might allow for better equipment/facilities.

Unfortunately, I guess thats their theory, but almost impossible to apply in practice unless we want to see the sporting population of swindon making its way en-mass (and often in cars) to try and get to the single/limited-use venue catering for their chosen sport. It seems to me that it will disadvantage lots of people, and definitely force the closure of many locally based sports clubs. The fact that it will inevitably mean more vehicle journeys is also an irony which ought not to be missed.

Some sports are clearly more profitable than others. Having a sports hall turned over to an aerobics class of 30 people guarantees 30 x fee payers for that booking. The same hall for badminton might end up with just one court - or all 4 booked(with 32 x fee players)... so commercial hall managers would obviously prefer aerobics classes. I've already seen this happen with a privately managed hall - they basically set aside the hall purely for 'group' use like yoga, aeorobics etc. It brought in more money - but actually involved fewer people from the wider community - and certainly much less diversity in terms of the age and profile of the users.

The other issue is as you said, locality to your home. 'One offs' like a birthday party at the trampolines or using the flumes at the Oasis might not present a barrier - in fact people might travel significant distances to do something like that.

But despite the PR puff from Better, I don't think trampolining really does represent an activity for all, regardless of age or ability. Its quite patently an attempt to cash in on the popularity of garden trampolines with a dose of visitor attraction thrown in.

I suspect its very similar in nature to go-carting and lazer quest - sure, they have their dedicated adherents, but for most its a day out or a one-off activity which relies on its novelty. Which is why a lot of them have closed as thats worn off. On the other hand, although their individual popularity ebbs and flows, people have been doing judo, yoga, fencing, playing indoor hockey, five aside, soft-ball tennis, netball, basketball, indoor cricket etc FOR YEARS.

It might make money for Better - but only at the cost of a LOT of established and thriving clubs from within the Swindon community.

Sadly, looking at the typical grey haired and portly councillor, the only sporting thing they'd fight to protect would be a golf club (or a club sandwich) ...

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The problem was the council WANTED to sell.

Yup. Another example of when ideology and incompetence buggers what might have been a workable idea... It'll be interesting to read the terms of the deal in some detail.
I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it - [attributed to] Voltaire... 'Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessita' - William of Occam.... 'You have a right to feel offended, but just cos you are offended doesn't mean you are right'

Offline Spunkymonkey

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Tobes

I think there are two options:-

Profit making services under the private sector or subsidised services under the public sector.

The public sector are there to provide services that the private sector won't or can't. This current trend of mixing the two doesn't work.

Offline Muggins

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Here's a thing about trampolining, over the last 20 years or so, manufacturers seem to have come up with garden trampolines that can be used safely and by most people and for a couple of hundred, you can get a really decent one in your own backgarden.

Its an activity that is of little annoyance to neighbours, needs only a part of the garden, doesn't have to be put away at night - so why would anyone want to go and pay to use one? 

But rock climbing, badmington,  five a sides, etc. all need more space - so why use up the space for them with trampolines? 
Oi! Listen mush. Old eyes, remember? I’ve been around the block a few times. More than a few. They’ve knocked down the blocks I’ve been around and rebuilt them as bigger blocks. Super blocks. And I’ve been round them as well.  The Doctor (Night Terrors)

Offline Tobes

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Yup. Have to agree mugs. Sports halls by their very definition give the public something they cannot provide for themselves; a large area of indoor space. They also allow them to do things collectively as teams. This particular one also provides something unique in the borough - the celebrated and popular climbing wall - again, not something someone can provide for themselves in their back garden

Turning of these few venues (let alone one of the largest and most versatile and well used) into a one use novelty seems like an abrogation of the stewardship to which Better were entrusted... and reveals the risks of empty promises from politicians who pretend that PFI deals deliver some kind of miracle. Of course, pissed off tax payers wishing to show their disappointment in a truly free market could go elsewhere... except that Better now have a monopoly of almost all of swindons's hireable sports-hall space.  :(
I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it - [attributed to] Voltaire... 'Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessita' - William of Occam.... 'You have a right to feel offended, but just cos you are offended doesn't mean you are right'

Offline Phil Chitty

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Didn't a similar trampoline park in Scotland close within a month because of all the accidents?

Offline PAV

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I regularly play badminton at the Oasis and there are always courts available in the evenings. It makes no sense to have the same activities at multiple centres if none of them are fully subscribed.

Maybe Better are taking a view across all the leisure centres as a whole, rather than running them piecemeal like the council clearly did?