On Monday (July 27), Rother District Council’s cabinet agreed to formally suspend plans to replace Bexhill Leisure Centre with a larger, more modern facility and instead pursue a more modest refurbishment of the current building.
The leisure centre project, which had been expected to cost as much as £15m, had formed part of the wider redevelopment of the former Bexhill High School site in Down Road.
Before the vote, the council’s lead member for health, wellbeing and inclusion Jay Brewerton said: “I was extremely disappointed to have to be in the situation where we are deferring the actual building of a new leisure centre. I hope that we can achieve this within our time [in council].
“I’m very much for still building a new leisure centre, but I appreciate that while we are in the middle of a pandemic we cannot be seen to be spending extortionate amounts or even borrowing extortionate amounts to build.
“I think this has been the best decision in terms of the most prudent financial option.
“I want to thank all of the officers, who have worked very hard on achieving the plans for a new leisure centre and which did look incredibly exciting. [The work] has been going on for several years, not just a few months.”
While the leisure centre redevelopment was put on hold, cabinet confirmed the wider housing development scheme will continue, eventually leading to a reserved matters planning application.
As part of this, cabinet agreed that land acquisitions and Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPOs) “be progressed where necessary”.
This development was welcomed by Conservative councillor John Barnes (Burwash and the Weald), who said: “First of all can I welcome that the housing is now a totally separate project. That seems to me to be easily the most urgent task in front of us.
“But I wouldn’t want to let the leisure centre go without an expression of disappointment that we didn’t resolve even the beginnings of a timetable and how we might finance it.
“I say this because one of the things that Covid has highlighted to me is that if you are obese then you are more threatened. It seems to me that we do need to make sure we are driving on this physical recreation front.”
As well as the development plans, cabinet is also agreed to continue providing financial support for the council’s leisure contractor Freedom Leisure.
Details of the funding package are confidential, however the decision was previously taken was to provide Freedom Leisure with up to £38,000 per month during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Freedom Leisure reopened many of its centres on July 25, following the lifting of some lockdown measures. However, remaining restrictions are expected to continue affecting its income in the short to medium term.
An amendment tabled at the meeting saw cabinet agree that Freedom Leisure should be required to provide demographic details of its membership as part of the funding agreement.
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