Posted: 02.09.21 at 17:17 by Daniel Jaines, Local Democracy reporter
Deepings Leisure Centre has been given a lifeline after councillors agreed to investigate a potential £6.3 million revamp – but the facility will remain closed for some time.
South Kesteven District Council’s leadership had looked at closing the Deeping St James centre because of a “significant risk to the health and safety” of staff and customers after heavy rainfall damaged the roof.
It was believed repair costs for the 47-year-old building would reach £1.2million.
Independent councillors at the authority accused the Conservative leadership of going back on their original plans for the centre and launched a petition to save it – reaching more than 8,500 signatures.
At an extraordinary meeting on Thursday, September 2 councillors considered the findings of an initial assessment by Paul Weston and Caston Cost Consultants which suggested an investment of around £6.3 million could bring the current leisure centre up to scratch and extend its lifespan for 25 years.
SKDC leader Councillor Kelham Cooke proposed that the council commission a £100,000 survey to bring forward refurbishment options and renegotiate its agreements with landowners Lincolnshire County Council, and investors The Anthem Trust. Councillors voted in favour of the survey by a majority, but the centre will remain closed while this takes place.
An additional amendment by Councillor Ashley Baxter also asked for the full costings of new leisure centre sites to be included.
Councillor Cooke acknowledged the “huge amount of public interest” and said the facility was an “integral part of the Deepings of Lincolnshire”.
“We have all heard through emails and on social media many heartfelt stories fond memories and pleading [from] the Deepings community, asking us to save this facility, [it] is clear this building means so much more to the community,” he said.
“I am pleased that we therefore now have an opportunity that could not only save the 47-year-old leisure centre for the local community, but could also secure significantly improved leisure facilities for the Deepings for the next 25 years.”
However, he noted the economy was in a “very different” place to a few years ago, hinting plans for an entirely new leisure centre was no longer top priority.
He suggested the process could take until at least Christmas and that the leisure centre would not open by spring of 2022, until bosses were confident members of the public and staff would be safe.
Opposition councillors, however, were sceptical of the u-turn by the authority’s leaders and called for immediate action.
Councillor Amanda Wheeler said: “Please can we focus on what the people the Deepings need right now? They need a leisure centre, and they need it to be open, so please, in case you haven’t gotten the message can we agree to fix the roof and open the blooming doors today?”
Councillor Phil Dilks said previous promises to build a brand new leisure centre in the area had not come to fruition.
He accused leaders of being misleading and downgrading election promises.
“Where’s our new leisure centre that you promised? Was the money ever there for a new leisure centre?” he said.
Councillor Dilks called for a full inquiry into the previous promises.
“Why has the council failed to maintain its leisure centres for the last decade or more?”
And Councillor Paul Woods said the move was “kicking the can down the road”.
“It’s more investigations, more surveys, we’re already spending a lot of money.
“I would rather we could actually do something immediately and concentrate on the essential works. But certainly do not spend a load of money on leisure centres that are not going to last. Is there no way we can deliver a new leisure centre for the people of Deepings?”
Councillor Virginia Moran said her colleagues had found local builders that could do the work for two-thirds of the £1.2million estimate and accused leaders of further backtracking.
She predicted the new report would only lead to further costs and a future decision by councillors not to repair it at that point.
A further amendment to provide a one-off budget of up to £1.2million to undertake the essential works before Easter 2022 was voted down. Cabinet member for finance Councillor Adam Stokes urged caution in case budgets increased and said there was a procurement process the council had to follow.
Councillor Cooke added: “We can’t just spend on reopening as we don’t know what we’re going to uncover. The chief executive will not reopen if there is any doubt over health and safety.”