Dorset Council could save thousands handing over leisure centres

Dorset Council could save thousands handing over leisure centres

Published by George Sharpe at 1:54pm 11th March 2020.

In excess of £580,000 a year, each year, could be saved by taking larger Dorset leisure centres out of council control.

But the one-off cost of making the change could be up to £1.1million.

A Dorset Council committee heard on Tuesday that in the short-term existing contracts for several Dorset leisure centres are likely to be extended which will mean centre users not seeing any changes for several years.

Those where management contracts end in the relatively short-term, at Blandford, Dorchester and Ferndown, are expected to see their agreements now extended until March 2025, possibly with a break clause next year.

Dorchester Sports Centre is estimated to need £1.1m worth of maintainence in 2026/27

Councillors meeting in Dorchester were told that some changes to the way the centres are run, and even the future of some smaller centres, is likely to be re-negotiated, as the cost of maintaining ageing buildings continue to rise. One scenario suggests that the management of all viable centres go to one operator to ensure s consistency of service across the council area, as well as a cost-saving.

Over the next five years alone the council estimates that it may need to find £5million for works at eight of its leisure centres, £3m of it shared by the Queen Elizabeth centre in Wimborne and at Ferndown. Blandford Leisure Centre could need £1.4m of work in 2024/25 with Dorchester needing an estimated £1.1m in 2026/27.

The Place Scrutiny committee was also told that there was a need to broaden the use of centres, where possible, which could include working with GP practices, library services, community groups and other partners. In some places where this has happened attendances have risen by more than a third.

The process may not involve all of the centres, some of which are already being managed by third parties. These include as Redlands at Weymouth and the Bridport Leisure Centre.

Dorset Council says that the suggestions to extend contracts, yet to be finalised, are a ‘holding operation’ while the long-term future of all the and leisure centres are considered, along with other buildings owned by the authority. A review is currently underway looking at which buildings and sites might be retained and which could be disposed of.

Manager for leisure services, Paul Rutter, told councillors that the panel of councillors which has considered the options for council-owned leisure centres has ‘strong reservations’ about continuing to fund repairs on buildings that may not be fit for purpose in the medium to long term.

None of the councillors at Tuesday’s committee had any questions about the report and none offered any comment on its proposals.

Centres recognised as ‘primary’ include Blandford, Dorchester, Ferndown, the Purbeck Centre at Wareham, the Queen Elizabeth Centre at Wimborne and Verwood Hub.

Those listed as ‘secondary’ which will also be reviewed, but may not form part of the council’s core service in the future are:

  • Potterne Park, Verwood
  • Emmanuel Sports hall, Verwood
  • Redlands, Weymouth which is already leased to Weymouth College
  • Bridport Leisure Centre which the council gives an annual grant to but which is owned and operated by the Bridport and West Dorset Sports Trust.

By Trevor Bevins, Local Democracy Reporter