Ringmer Swimming Pool Consultation on Future Options

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Closes 15 Aug 2022

Introduction

Ringmer Swimming Pool (the Pool) is located on the site of King’s Academy, Ringmer. East Sussex County Council (ESCC) has freehold ownership of both the Pool and the Academy site.  In 2011, the school converted to become an Academy, and the school buildings were leased to the Academy.  However, the Pool was not part of the conversion, and it is not leased by the Academy.

The Pool was constructed in 1981 and has been in operation since that date.

Prior to March 2020, the Pool was used by the Academy (during school hours) and the community (outside main school hours). Some local primary schools also used the facility for their school curriculum use.

The Pool was, prior to its recent closure (described below), operated and managed under a ‘concession contract’ (i.e., a contract under which a service provider incurs costs running a facility but retains revenues from doing so) by Wave Leisure Trust. There have been several contract extensions over the last five years, primarily due to lack of interest from other leisure concession operators, as there is low income from community use.

The Pool was closed from Spring 2020 to September 2020 due to national lockdown in response to the Covid pandemic.  Although the Pool briefly reopened in September 2020, major failure of significant plant and equipment infrastructure at the property shortly after reopening has required the facility to remain closed since that time.  There are alternative facilities in the local area that schools can access.

The estimated cost of the capital works which would be required to re-open the Pool is in excess of £300,000, based on surveys.

ESCC commissioned an independent advisor in Spring 2021 to consider options for the future management of the Pool. The consultant recommended that a market assessment was undertaken and Expressions of Interest (EOI) invited from operators/companies able to deliver financially viable and sustainable proposals. 

The deadline for responses was extended a number of times to maximise the opportunity for parties to respond.  ESCC has engaged with local stakeholders, including Ringmer Parish and Lewes District Councils, throughout the process.

The EOI invitation concluded on 5 November 2021. There was a limited response, with only one EOI containing the required detailed information being received before the deadline.

ESCC considered the proposal, submitted by a commercial operator. The proposal indicated that the operator would be willing to operate the Pool only if ESCC committed to substantially increased ongoing financial support (for which no budgetary provision currently exists), primarily as a result of significant increases in energy costs, but also in the form of significant capital investment in the Pool, as indicated by specialist building surveys.  It appears that any commercial operator of the Pool would require significant subsidisation by ESCC, since the costs of keeping the Pool open would significantly exceed income (from admission charges and from payments by the Academy to use the Pool).

A community-led stakeholder also expressed enthusiasm for operating the Pool, but it did not submit a business case explaining how such operation would be funded and sustainably managed. 

The Academy has confirmed that it does not wish to operate the pool.

Options

In those circumstances, ESCC now needs to take a decision about whether (a) to close the Pool permanently; (b) to keep the Pool open (which would appear to require significant additional expenditure by ESCC, both initial investment and an ongoing financial subsidy); or (c) to consider viable proposals for alternative usage of the building.

As to option (a), it appears that the Pool could not be kept open without ESCC incurring very high additional costs, for which it has does not currently have any budget.  ESCC faces considerable budgetary pressures.  In the face of those pressures, ESCC has prioritised its most important services.  It does not currently treat the provision and funding of leisure services as part of its Council Plan i.e., as part of the suite of priority services which it should provide, using the limited funds available to it.  For these reasons, ESCC is considering permanent closure of the Pool in order to avoid the costs which would be required to re-open and operate it.

However, as to option (b), ESCC is yet to decide whether to close the Pool permanently.  ESCC could keep the Pool open by entering into a contract with a new operator, and paying for the necessary capital works.  This option would be costly; although precise costs cannot be predicted, the EOI exercise described above indicates that it might require the Council to provide ongoing financial support, as well as paying for capital works costing more than £300,000.  Funding of such costs would require ESCC to make new provision for them in its budget, which does not currently cover such costs.  In theory, ESCC could do so by raising council tax, or by cutting other services.  However, raising council tax and cutting other services are undesirable steps, and there would need to be cogent reasons for taking them, especially as ESCC does not currently treat provision and funding of leisure services as part of its priorities under the Council Plan.

As to option (c), ESCC is also willing to consider other proposals which respondents might make as to what future use could be made of the building in which the Pool is housed, even if it is no longer to be used as a swimming pool.  Presently, however, the Council has not identified viable alternative uses for the land.   For example, decommissioning the pool and converting the building for other community uses would itself require significant expenditure for which ESCC has not budgeted; and a provider would still need to be found to run the facility.  Any alternative usage of the facility would also need to take account of its location adjoining the Academy site, and the fact that it is accessed via the Academy’s buildings; this would require measures to safeguard the Academy’s pupils from members of the public accessing the site.

 

What is your organisation? (optional)
First part of your primary residence postcode e.g. BN8. Information will be used for mapping interest in leisure facilities in the area (optional)