On Monday (January 10), Rother District Council cabinet members agreed to spend up to £50,000 to develop a ‘realistic and achievable’ strategy on the authority’s leisure facilities.
Among other things, this new strategy would be expected to lay out the next steps for leisure facilities in Bexhill, after plans to replace Bexhill Leisure Centre with a larger, more modern facility were formally suspended in 2020.
While details of this strategy are still some way off, cabinet members hinted that the new approach may not necessarily be the construction of a single ‘all-singing, all-dancing’ new facility.
Cabinet member for communities, culture and tourism Hazel Timpe said: “This is a wonderful time to put this forward now, because we do need to resolve the fact that we did put it on hold.
“But everything has changed. If you look there is a report back in September from the Association for Public Service Excellence they did a consultation of 250 councils across the country. I think 97 per cent said they need to actually look at their leisure services and how they are offering them to the community.
“A theme came up about how a leisure service should be within 20 minutes of every single resident, not necessarily an all-signing, all-dancing facility; it could be something that is attached to a doctors’ surgery.”
She added: “I think we are really doing the right thing here and what is needed definitely, because it is a significant investment whatever we do. If we are talking satellite facilities or whatever.
“We are talking significant money and we have to have evidence that we are going to spend it on the best use we can.”
Whatever approach the strategy eventually recommends, it will likely have to come up with a solution to the current state of Bexhill’s existing leisure facilities.
According to council papers, the existing facility is coming to the end of its ‘structural life’ and that patch repairs are no longer considered to be economically or environmentally efficient.
On top of that, the council’s current contract with leisure provider Freedom Leisure ends on 31 March 2024. Officers say the Bexhill buildings will need major refurbishment or replacement prior to a new contract being signed.
It was initially planned to replace Bexhill Leisure Centre with a larger, more modern facility as part of the wider redevelopment of the former Bexhill High School site in Down Road. However, this project was formally suspended in 2020.
At the time, council leaders said the project — expected to cost around £15m — could not be justified in the face of the financial uncertainty surrounding covid.
Council leader Doug Oliver defended this decision during Monday’s meeting.
He said: “I think there is a little bit of history with all of this and it was the right decision to pull away from the all-singing, all-dancing rebuild there.
“The hotel pulled out and the Ministry of Defence took five years to say you couldn’t have the drill hall. It was all looking a bit wonky.
“In a way I suppose all those delays were fortuitous, because if the button had been pressed prior to that then we could have been looking down the barrel and that would have been very uncomfortable.”
According to council papers, the £50,000 is to be drawn from money set aside for minor refurbishments at Bexhill Leisure Centre and will be spent on hiring external consultants.
These external firms would carry out market research and draft a Built Leisure Facility Strategy for the council’s consideration.