Update on Southwell Leisure Centre from Newark and Sherwood District Council.

Posted on: Thursday, May 9, 2024

Southwell Leisure Centre is owned by the Southwell Leisure Centre Trust. The District Council took over the management of the Centre in October 2021 because the Trust could not afford to run and maintain it. The centre is over 60 years old, and the main swimming pool had to be closed in October 2023 due to a substantial leakage of water of almost 9,000 litres per day caused by heavily corroded pipework.

After considering all the options, the District Council made the decision on 19 December 2023 to build a brand-new main pool and teaching pool with changing facilities.  This was considered to be the best long-term option and was to be the first step towards building a brand-new leisure centre. The District Council committed £5.5m to do so, together with £25,000 for feasibility and design works. The alternative, of lining the existing main pool, at a cost of £645,000, was not considered a viable option as it did not provide a long-term solution with the likelihood of further work needed to the aging infrastructure and plant room. Also, lining the pool would impact on the user experience as the depth of the pool would permanently be reduced and this option would not address the existing limitations for pool users with disabilities.

The decision to build a new swimming facility has always been conditional on the Trust transferring the freehold interest in the current leisure centre to the District Council as no organisation would spend £5.5m on a facility that it did not have ownership and control of. Since 19 December 2023, the District Council has been doing all it can to get a new pool in Southwell off the ground, encouraging the Trust to act in partnership to approach the Charity Commission to effect the freehold transfer. The Trust’s preference, over this period has continued to be to repair the existing main pool. On Saturday 4 May 2024, approaching five months since the District Council committed £5.5m, the Trust finally agreed to support the construction of a new pool instead of a repair to the existing pool, and to make a joint approach to the Charity Commission to put a proposal for freehold transfer of the leisure centre. While it could be said that the District Council has, at long-last, secured the in-principle agreement that it was seeking, the reality is that the Trust’s opposition to the proposed replacement and not repair of the main pool still continues. This has become even more evident this week with some of the Trust members attempting to appoint an additional Trustee, despite their being no vacancy; which the District Council views as further obstruction and game playing.

Misinformation has continued to be spread by the Trust and the campaign group Friends of Southwell Swimming Pool. Accusations have been wide-ranging and lack any substance, but they include claims that the District Council want the site of the leisure centre for housing, or to sell to Sainsburys; that it has inflated the estimated cost of the repair to suit its own agenda; that the District Council wants ownership of the centre because it is lucrative, a “cash cow.”  These are not true.  There have been endless assertions that the District Council is compelled to repair the pool as a condition of its lease and that the cost of repairing the pool could be paid back in one year from the surplus income generated by the pool, completely overlooking the running costs of the pool and the impact of financing its repair. The reality is that the lease does not compel the District Council to place the leisure centre into a better condition than was the case at the point of entering into the lease and there is very clear evidence that the Trust was aware of the damage to the pool back in 2016 but chose not to repair it.

Councillor Paul Peacock, Leader of Newark and Sherwood District Council explains, “There have been plenty of twists and turns on a journey that should have been simple and a great thing for Southwell. In addition to the lack of action by the Trust over the last five months, I am extremely disappointed at the misinformation and insults that have been spread about us. It is incredibly disappointing that a decision by the District Council, that was intended to be positive for the health and well-being of the local community, has become divisive, bogged down in process with endless excuses to not move forward. 

“Therefore, the District Council’s Cabinet will be voting, next Tuesday, on removing the £5.5m allocated to the pool and to re-allocate this money to future health and wellbeing related schemes in the district. In addition, the Trust have obtained a quote of £247,000 for the lining of the main pool and the Chair has even stated that the pool can be repaired for less than this cost. Since this is the option that has been pursued by the Trust from the beginning, and has been supported by the Friends of Southwell Pool, the District Council will offer the Trust the £247,000 it needs, along with another £250,000 for work required to the dry side. In return, we will surrender the lease and allow the Trust to continue to manage the leisure centre. 

“I really am extremely disappointed for the residents of Southwell that it has ended up like this.  I’m disappointed that they may not get a new pool and ultimately a new leisure centre.  Following the decision from Cabinet on 14 May 2024, the Trust could have the money it believes it needs to repair the pool, so at least Southwell residents can look forward to the Trust taking the action it has pressed for from day one.”

The District Council’s full report on Southwell Leisure Centre, which will be presented to its Cabinet for decision on 14 May is available on its website at https://democracy.newark-sherwooddc.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=288&MId=1051, item 8.