MP questions uncertain future of Southwell Leisure Centre pool as reopening unable to be confirmed by Newark and Sherwood District Council
An MP has branded a council’s management of a swimming pool closure as “chaotic” after its re-opening date could not be confirmed.
Southwell Leisure Centre is to remain closed throughout November for investigation into a potential leak and expected extensive repair work required for the wetside facility.
At a meeting of Newark and Sherwood District Council’s cabinet, portfolio holder Susan Crosby said she could not say for definite when the pool would reopen, but hoped it would be the predicted date of December 1.
She was responding to Conservative Penny Rainbow, who addressed the cabinet about the important facility in Southwell and shared residents’ concerns that it would not reopen in December.
Newark MP Robert Jenrick has now written to council leader Paul Peacock to request, as a matter of urgency, the council “clear up the mess” that has been created by its “chaotic handling” of the matter.
The letter said: “I understand at a recent council meeting, when questioned, councillor Susan Crosby, portfolio holder for health, wellbeing and leisure in your administration, stated she could not give an assurance that Southwell Leisure Centre would re-open as promised in five weeks’ time.
“Furthermore, I am told by multiple sources that your officers have said privately that the leisure centre may never re-open.
“This is deeply concerning and surprising to me and residents of Southwell who had been informed by the council that it would only be closed until December 1.”
The MP further said it was imperative the council communicate clearly with the public over the “valued community asset”.
He addressed the recent funding allocated by the government, which he said it gave “believing the leisure centre would be operational, serving the community in Southwell”.
The letter continued: “I would be grateful if you would confirm when the leisure centre will be reopening. If in reality there is considerable refurbishment works to be carried out and you cannot give a date at this point, please confirm that the council is committed to undertaking those works as a matter of priority and that the leisure centre will definitely reopen as soon as practicable.
“Southwell Leisure Centre is an important asset to the community. It is critical that it is swiftly brought back to full use and its long term future secured.”
At the cabinet meeting, repair work for the centre’s dryside facilities was approved - but concerns were raised about the closure of its 60-year-old main pool.
An officer told the meeting: “We will certainly be making every endeavor to open the swimming pool. We understand the importance of the swimming pool facility.
“It also has a detrimental impact on the council’s finances… for one month’s closure its a loss of £20,000. It would really depend on the outcome of our investigations.”
At the meeting, prior to contact from Mr Jenrick and the allocation of Government funding, the council’s officers said the council would re-asses its position after the predicted four week closure, once it knew the extent of the leak and pipework corrosion, and a report detailing costs of repair work for the wetside facility would be brought to the council at that time.
Since the meeting on October 31, the leisure centre has been awarded a Government grant of £42,578, a share of £20m for at-risk facilities. It is to help towards immediate maintenance costs, heating and pool chemicals.
Despite her concerns, Penny Rainbow thanked the council for its work, acknowledging that without its help the previous operators, the Southwell Leisure Centre Trust, would have had to close the pool anyway.
Southwell Leisure Centre is the responsibility of the council under a full repairing lease, taken on in 2021 after the trust ran out of funds. It is operated by leisure provider Active4Today.
At the meeting Paul Taylor questioned how it had taken so long for the council to be aware of the issues, given it was “not overnight” that the issues appeared. Officers assured they had brought it to the council as soon as possible.
Mr Taylor’s concern was echoed by Peter Harris, who spoke at the meeting, and said: "I would like to challenge the issue that nothing was known about this because I understood the district council did a significant due diligence process prior to taking over management, commissioned an extensive survey and then signed the full repairing lease after that survey was done.
“Some of these issues were well know by the trustees… so this is a problem which I think has been well known, but despite this issue we now need to address it, and it is going to be very expensive.”
Paul Peacock closed the debate and said: “Just to be clear, Newark and Sherwood District Council will do the right thing for Southwell Leisure Centre and for the residents of Southwell.
“We’re in this situation now, and this district council takes responsibility to make sure we still provide a leisure offer, now as much as we can, and in the future as much as it ever was.
“In three or four weeks time we will know more about the options we will need to take.”
As per the agenda, cabinet members approved an additional £161,800 to pay for fire safety and general repair works at Southwell Leisure Centre, giving Newark and Sherwood District Council at total of £740,000 for the project.
The approved dryside work includes fire compartmentation upgrades in walls and ceilings, repairs to existing damaged fire doors, replacement of non-compliant internal glazing, upgrades to emergency lighting, installation of smoke vent systems and construction of a disabled refuge with fire doors, roof repairs to the main entrance atrium glass, external redecoration and cladding repairs, repairs to the fitness suite floor, repairs to final exit doors and electrical upgrade works.
The council has confirmed it will make every effort to keep the centre operational during the essential works, but there is a possibility that it may have to close for a period of time in order for the works to be carried out safely, effectively and efficiently.
In the case of closure, it said Active4Today will endeavour to accommodate customers at the Newark and Dukeries facilities, and members affected will have their direct debits reduced to a nil payment where appropriate.
The dryside funding and repair work was agreed and Keith Melton abstained from the vote having declared an interest as a trustee of the leisure centre.