West Lindsey District Council has revealed the multi-million pound dry leisure centre planned for Market Rasen is ‘very much’ a ‘stage one’ and that a swimming pool remains an ‘aspiration’.
It comes after almost 1,000 people signed a petition calling for a swimming pool to be built as part of the £6.3 million leisure centre in Gainsborough Road.
In an exclusive interview with the Rasen Mail WLDC executive director of economic and commercial growth, Eve Fawcett-Moralee said the council needed residents’ support to get the dry centre up and running before it could make a ‘business case’ for a swimming pool at the centre within three years.
Ms Fawcett-Moralee said: “We’re not ruling it [a swimming pool] out. There was always going to be an option going forward.
“It still remains an aspiration. What we have to do for the town and immediate area is create sufficient mass to justify the expense, so it won’t lose the council revenue and it will be a self sustaining facility.
“The dry leisure centre is very much a stage one.
“The land we’ve bought will have the scope to add a swimming pool in the future. It backs onto the primary school, town council facilities and a hotel. There’s more than enough land surplus there.
“Campaigning for a pool, saying West Lindsey give us a pool is not reality because there isn’t the population there at the moment to make it work.
“We need to raise finances to provide a swimming pool in the future. If we don’t get the dry side up and running then it won’t be an option.
“The key to viability [of the swimming pool] is delivering the new facility in Market Rasen on time and on budget and a creating a commercial success of the operation.
“From this enhanced asset base we can begin to look at a business case for the addition of a swimming pool in circa two to three years as part of the town council three year vision.
“WLDC is supporting Market Rasen in defining and delivering its three year vision with a capital grant of £200,000 and transfer of a council asset in the Festival Hall. This enhanced asset base could be useful in developing the business case for a future swimming pool.
“The three year vision is all about the town utilising the growth opportunities to invest in the town’s infrastructure for example we were able to provide £85,000 for the skate park.
“This partnership working with the town council is key to enabling more investment in the town.
“The three year vision should focus on improving the lifestyle offer and economy of the town to attract new residents to the circa 700 new homes with planning permission in the town.
“This new resident base will be instrumental in creating the business case for additional facilities like the swimming pool.”
Ms Fawcett-Moralee said the council had ‘re-worked’ its leisure contract and invested ‘significant’ capital to create a new asset in Market Rasen and extend its health and wellbeing reach across the district.
The new leisure centre in Market Rasen will provide a dry side facility and 3G pitch and is due to open in June 2020.
West Lindsey District Council Leader Jeff Summers said: “As far as I’m concerned, and the Conservative administration, we’re here to provide services at various levels of provision across the district and we’re committed to doing that.
“This is the first step for Market Rasen.”
Coun Summers will be at Market Rasen Town Council’s monthly meeting in Festival Hall at 7pm this evening (Wednesday, July 4), where he will answer questions from town councillors who backed the petition for a pool.
READERS’ QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Did you do a feasibility study into local demand for a pool while doing your plans for a dry leisure centre? Why not? Residents believe a swimming pool would bring economic benefits, health benefits, jobs and it would help to sustain the bus services. They say swimming is a key skill that some people currently have to do a 30-mile round trip for access.
Ms Fawcett-Moralee said: “We did a commercial feasibility study.
“We know it [Market Rasen] needs a much bigger population for a swimming pool.
“That’s what we’re going to suggest to the town council.
“Even a dry leisure centre isn’t viable, it’s being cross funded, we’ve created a business opportunity.
“The campaign should be to open the two existing pools in the town, at the schools, while we establish a business case.”
Why are you doing external investments? Are you buying a leisure centre in Sheffield?
Coun Summers said: “To buy an income stream to replace the revenue support grant from the government.
“The alternative is to make redundancies and cut services.
“I don’t want to see them [services] cut and I don’t want to make redundancies.
“It’s been referred to as gambling with council’s money but that’s definitely not the case.
“We’ve considered over 50 different offers around the district and beyond and so far have secured one.
“We have a strict 14 point criteria to make our decisions.
“We’ve been looking [at leisure facilities in Sheffield] but nothing has been finalised.
Ms Fawcett-Moralee said: “The commercial investments are completely different, it’s something outside of all of this.
“All councils are looking at ways of gaining income.
“We’re looking at commercial investments in that area because they will buy a safe income stream. We’re investing money to get a return.
“That money comes back to the council, hopefully at a surplus, which can then be invested in things like a swimming pool.”
Residents have accused the council’s hotel investment of not giving a very good yield. What is your response?
Ms Fawcett-Moralee said: “It meets our policy on yield and risk factors. It’s very risk averse, we do get a good return for it.
“Residents can look at our statement of accounts.
“We do budget consultation and do focus groups and questionnaires.
“There’s opportunities for people to participate in the decision making.”
Residents say they are ‘sick’ of seeing money going to Gainsborough. What do you say?
Coun Summers said: “Within Gainsborough and the immediate area is 21,000 people - you would expect to invest more where the greatest population lies. Investments will go to areas where we see opportunities.”
Ms Fawcett-Moralee said: “In recent years we’ve spent £1.4 million in Gainsborough of our own money and had £10 million in grants because of the deprivation there.
“In Market Rasen we’re spending £6.3 million, which is our biggest investment in the district in the last five years.
“If we support the town council in their three year vision, we’ll give them a £200,000 capital grant to assist them.
“We’re looking at transferring the area office with a value of £140,000 and have granted £85,000 for the skate park.
What happened to all of the funds residents have raised for a swimming pool over the past 30 years?
Ms Fawcett-Moralee said: “It wasn’t anything to do with the council. Funds were raised for a swimming pool in the local primary school, which is the county council.
“It was nothing to do with West Lindsey District Council, it was separate fundraising.”
Coun Summers said: “If they opened that [primary school swimming pool] up to the public at certain times, and it was supported, that’s helping the case for a swimming pool.”
Readers would like to know why planning permission has been turned down for other ventures on that site previously?
Ms Fawcett-Moralee said: “The leisure centre hasn’t been given planning permission yet. The application will be submitted in October and it will be assessed on its own merits.
“It’s in open countryside but we think there’s a planning rationale for this and can be granted if it’s complementary to the open countryside, which given what it’s next to, we believe it is.
“If there are local objections that will be seen as a planning risk.
“If people don’t agree it’s a good use for the open countryside, that could go against it.
“It’s a reality.
“It needs to have public support.”
Do you think a swimming pool would help people to get fit - especially older people who cannot do other forms of exercise - and ultimately save NHS money?
Ms Fawcett-Moralee said: “We agree with that. The leisure contract is about health and wellbeing.
“It appeals to a large group of people, we completely get that.
“The three year vision is trying to bring more economic activity and population to bring spending power to rejuvenate the high street.
“And with more people there is a case for a pool.
“The dry leisure centre will have a 3G pitch and walking football, which isn’t something that the market provides at the moment.”
Will there be facilities for disabled people at the dry leisure centre?
Ms Fawcett-Moralee said: “The designs are being drawn up and we have to submit the planning application in October.
“Access will have to be provided. There will be programmes for disabled people.”
Lots of people run private fitness classes and gyms in Market Rasen already and there are concerns these people will lose income. What do you say to these people?
Ms Fawcett-Moralee said: “If it gets planning permission, the programming of classes will take into account what is already on, we won’t compete against it.
“This is about health and wellbeing, getting people active.
“Getting the population who won’t go to those classes active.
“A commercial approach to deliver a health and wellbeing agenda. Our contractor SLM will provide classes to complement those in the town.”