As part of Kirklees Council’s continued work to balance its budgets, Cabinet Members are being asked to approve a 6-week consultation on proposals for changes to the district’s leisure centre offer.
The council’s 11 leisure centres have been operated by an external charity called Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL) since 2002, however the financial responsibility for the physical buildings belongs to the council. In addition to paying for repairs and maintenance, the council provides a grant to KAL each year to subsidise the provision of leisure services at the sites.
The council’s leisure centres, like the wider leisure industry, were particularly hard hit during COVID, with pools and sports centres closing for significant periods and bringing in no income.
Aware of this, the council increased its subsidy to KAL during the recovery period. This included an additional £9.96M, alongside the core funding of £6M between April 21 and April 2024.
The council has indicated that due to the current financial situation, they are only able to provide a grant of £2.55m in the next financial year.
Kirklees Active Leisure has told the council that without additional funding, they will need to scale back their offer.
The need to change is a direct impact of the increased costs associated with running leisure centres such as energy, staffing and maintenance costs. Leisure centre operators are facing energy bill increases of around 200% when compared to 2019. In KAL centres, utilities costs have increased from around £1m to £4m.
Kirklees are not alone in this situation; research in November 2022 stated that 40% of council areas were at risk of losing their leisure centres and swimming pools and 65 pools have closed in the three years to March 2022 (UKActive).
The council is proposing to consult the public about which centres should remain open to ensure there is still a level of public access to swimming, sport, and exercise across the district.
Changes will have to take place and the number of centres will reduce due to the level of financial contribution the council is able to make to its partnership with KAL.
The proposal is to continue to operate the flagship centres in the North and South of the district: Huddersfield Leisure Centre and Spen Valley Leisure Centre.
Another six sites could be kept open because they require a relatively low level of financial contribution from the council, or further time is required for additional funding to be secured or alternative offers to be explored, as in the case of Holmfirth Pool & Fitness Suite, and Bradley Park Golf Club. Scissett Baths and Fitness Centre, could also be kept open if funding is granted by Sports England.
The report proposes that the Stadium Health & Fitness Club should also be kept open, to allow the council to resolve complex leasing arrangements and investigate the site’s attraction to commercial operators.
For Deighton Sports Arena, the current plan is that it will stop being operated by KAL in November 2023, however the council is proposing looking into other operating models such as a community asset transfer.
The report then sets out three potential permanent closures: Dewsbury Sports Centre, Batley Sports & Tennis Centre, and Colne Valley Leisure Centre. They are proposed to close as they all require a larger council contribution to operate than other centres, as well as significant capital investment for repairs and maintenance over the next three years.
Councillor Turner, Cabinet Member for Finance and Regeneration, said: “Where many councils have closed pools and sports centres gradually over many years, we have remained committed to protecting leisure services as much as possible. This has also included major investment in new centres for both North and South Kirklees in recent years.’
“However, the economic situation facing the UK is having a significant impact on everyone including local councils. Government funding has failed to plug the gap created by the long-term impacts of austerity, COVID and increased energy prices.’
“This means more of council budgets are being absorbed by statutory [legally required] and other essential front-line services. This has left us having to make very difficult decisions on the ongoing provision of other services, such as sport and leisure.’
“I am asking Cabinet permission to consult on the proposals, so that we can understand the impact they will have on local people. The information gathered will be used alongside the economic, environmental, social, and legal information available to the council to draft a report for a final decision at the Cabinet Meeting in December.”