REVEALED: All of the upgrades planned for leisure centres in Leyland, Bamber Bridge and Penwortham

Residents of South Ribble will be able to enjoy “state of the art” leisure facilities by next autumn after councillors approved a multi-million pound revamp of the existing offering in the district.

Thursday, 26th May 2022, 9:40 am
Updated Thursday, 26th May 2022, 2:41 pm

That was the promise from the deputy leader of South Ribble Borough Council as the authority agreed to splash out £6.6m on upgrading the leisure centres in Leyland, Penwortham and Bamber Bridge - as well as the tennis centre, also in Bamber Bridge.

That is on top of the £2.1m budget which is already available for maintenance of the four buildings.

Cllr Mick Titherington told a meeting of the Labour-run council that the works - which are set to be completed by September 2023 - would “transform our leisure centres into updated, exciting and user-friendly facilities”.

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Leyland leisure centre is one of the three in South Ribble which are set to be transformed (image: Google)

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The move brings to an end several years of tortuous debate about the future direction of leisure in South Ribble after an earlier plan to build a new health and leisure campus alongside the council’s headquarters was scrapped amidst spiralling costs.

That scheme was put forward by a previous Tory administration with a price tag, in early 2019, of £15m.

The following year, after taking control of the authority, the Labour group said that the true figure was nearer £24m - and councillors were last week told that such a facility could cost up to £40m at today’s inflation-impacted prices.

The poolside areas of all of South Ribble's leisure centres will be refurbished, including this one in Penwortham (image: Penwortham Leisure Centre/South Ribble Borough Council)

Papers presented to the meeting at which the alternative upgrade plan was approved laid out a litany of problems with the current leisure centres. These included “unattractive, unwelcoming and inefficient entrance and reception facilities” and “aged dry-side areas” which were said to require modernisation in order to make the centres more competitive

Feedback from staff and users also pointed to concerns about the deterioration of changing rooms and poolsides - which are amongst the areas to be revamped as part of a plan to ensure a “uniform standard of quality and customer experience” across all of the sites.

Cabinet member for finance, Matthew Tomlinson, said that residents served by the three leisure centres valued them “very much”.

Contracts are yet to be awarded for the work, but it is hoped that each of the facilities will have to close fully for no longer than a week within the period during which the upgrades are done - and no more than one centre will be shut at the same time.

The outside appearance of South Ribble's leisure centres is also set to be spruced up

Conservative councillor Caroline Moon said that she hoped that the timeframe for complete closures was “flexible” so that the quality of the work did not suffer as a result of trying to squeeze too much into a short space of time.

Cllr Titherington - who is also the cabinet member for health and wellbeing - said that while he wanted to ensure that closures were kept to an “absolute minimum” that must not be at the risk of “shoddy work”, which would cost the council more in the long run.

Tory member Alan Ogilvie said that while he understood “the rationale” for considering handing out separate contracts for firms to undertake the work on each of the centres, the authority must also get a quote from a single contractor for the full suite of works in order to ensure value for money.

Details of the procurement process will be considered by councillors next month.

The entrances and reception areas of leisure centres like Penwortham will get an overhaul as part of the £6.6m plan

The £6.6m investment - funded from borrowing - will be drawn from a £19m capital budget that had been set aside for the now abandoned leisure campus plan. The remainder of that pot will now be removed from the authority’s capital spending plans.

The leisure centre refurbishment programme was spawned after South Ribble Borough Council secured a separate £4.9m government grant to decarbonise the facilities and other parts of the authority's estate. Those works - supplemented by £500,000 worth of match funding from the council’s own coffers - will be completed by next February.

‘CHANGING FACILITIES MUST BE SUITABLE FOR ALL’

Labour councillor Caleb Tomlinson called for the upgraded leisure centres to include changing rooms specifically for those with stoma bags.

“Not only would this help people who are recovering from bowel or bladder cancer, it would also vastly help sufferers of Cronh’s and colitis disease,” Cllr Tomlinson explained.

“These people are embarrassed - they don't want to go into changing areas that are open to the public, they want privacy.”

Responding to the plea, deputy council leader Mick Titherington said that it would be given “full consideration”.

“We will involve the lead member for diversity and equality, because the fundamental principle….in leisure is to give access to people of all abilities - that’s really what it's all about,” Cllr Titherington added.

CONTENTION OVER ‘CLOSURE PLANS’

The leisure centre proposals saw an oft-repeated row in the South Ribble chamber resurface - namely, whether the previous Conservative plans for a purpose-built campus next to the council’s Leyland headquarters would have led to the closure of the existing leisure facilities in the town, along with those in Penwortham and Bamber Bridge.

Tory former council leader Peter Mullineaux said not.

“I’d like to make it quite clear that the Conservatives never said that we would close any leisure centres at all. We were looking at building a new leisure centre and reviewing all the others that we have - and as a responsible administration, you'd have expected us to do just that,” Cllr Mullineaux added.

However, Labour’s finance cabinet member Matthew Tomlinson told councillors that he had unearthed a Radio Lancashire interview in which Cllr Phil Smith - who then held the leisure brief for the Tories - had said differently.

“His vision for leisure in South Ribble was to build a new facility to replace - not to supplement - the word he used was to ‘replace the three, older, weary, inefficient centres that we have at the moment’.

“Was a vote ever taken? No. Was that the view of the cabinet member? Yes,” Cllr Tomlinson contended.

Cllr Smith himself told the meeting that “visions” for leisure in South Ribble had changed over time.

“Different opportunities present themselves and when [they do], those are the opportunities that we take,” he said, adding that the campus plan was one which appealed to him at the time.

However, he said that the minutes of a cabinet meeting where the matter was discussed in late 2017 noted that the council had “no intentions of closing leisure centres in the borough”.

Cllr Smith said that he supported the current refurbishment plans, as there was no other option on the table, but said that at the time the campus proposal was conceived, local authorities in places like Warrington and Crewe had developed new leisure centres for £15m - and claimed that South Ribble could have done the same, with the support of Sport England.

But Labour’s cabinet member for health and wellbeing rubbished the notion that £15m would ever have bought the kind of facility that had been proposed for the borough.

“I’m really fed up with ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda’,” Cllr Mick Titherington said.

“[Cllr Smith] speaks about 'we could have got this for £15m, we could have got that for £15m' - well why the bloody hell didn't we?

“If you look at the action that we've taken on leisure centres in the last three years…it’s more than…the Conservative group did when they were in power for the previous 12 years.”

Council leader Paul Foster said that the Tory group was now attempting to distance itself from a “desperately unpopular” policy to close the existing leisure facilities in the borough.

However, Conservative councillor Michael Green said that the party should be judged by how it had voted on the issue, not by things that were said in a radio interview - noting that the Tories “did not vote to close a single leisure centre in South Ribble” and had never even discussed the possibility in cabinet.

SCHOOL TO OPEN SPORTS FACILITY FOR RESIDENTS

South Ribble Borough Council is to give one of the district’s secondary schools £200,000 to develop new sports pitches - in return for allowing locals to use them.

The grant - along with a £100,000 interest-free loan - will be handed to Lostock Hall Academy to create two new facilities by upgrading and splitting in half an existing hard-surfaced area.

One half will be suitable for league netball, informal football, tennis, basketball and school activities and the other will become a multi-use games area which can be used for football, tennis and informal hockey.

There will also be a 113-metre six-lane sprint track at the rear of the games area and a long jump pit to provide all year-round athletics facilities.

A future phase of the scheme could see a full sized 3G pitch developed for football and for training for other sports.

Under the deal, the community will have access to the facilities for over 60 percent of the time they are open.

Gaynor Gorman, Principal of Lostock Hall Academy, said that the upgrades had been part of its plans for several years.

“The partnership with - and financial input from - South Ribble Borough Council will enable us to bring these facilities to our students and wider community sooner than expected.

“This comes at such a critical time as we return to life post pandemic. The last two years have been very difficult for our students and community and this facility will provide a boost to ensuring that every person in the Lostock Hall Academy community has access to, and benefits from, physical activity,” Mrs. Gorman added.

BLUEPRINT TO BRING LEISURE INTO THE 21ST CENTURY IN SOUTH RIBBLE

These are some of the provisional plans to refurbish each of the borough’s leisure facilities.

Leyland leisure centre

Poolside area - replacement of all tiling, including the drainage channels of the pool itself, plus complete redecoration of the area around the pool.

Wet-side changing areas - complete refurbishment of showers, tiling, floors, cubicles, lockers and fittings, plus decoration throughout.

Dry-side areas - improvements to flooring, décor and lighting in the gym, dance studio and sports hall and changing facilities.

Gym equipment - replacement and upgrade of existing kit.

Reception area - remodelling of the ground floor to open up the area, including new reception desk, circulation space, seating areas, activity spaces and improved vending areas.

External cladding and windows - new fittings will ensure better insulation and change the appearance of the building from the outside.

Public realm - improvements to the approach to the centre, with new paving, landscaped areas, footpaths and signage.

Bamber Bridge Leisure Centre

Poolside - replacement of all tiling, including the drainage channels of the pool itself, plus complete redecoration of the area around the pool.

Wet-side changing areas - complete refurbishment of the changing rooms, including showers, tiling, floors, cubicles, lockers and fittings, plus redecoration throughout.

Dry-side areas - to be refurbished throughout, including all changing facilities, flooring, décor, sanitary ware, shower units and lighting. The sports hall floor and squash court will be refurbished, as well as the gym and dance studio.

Reception area - remodelling of the ground floor to open up the area, including a new reception desk and circulation space and an improved vending and seating area for customers.

External cladding and windows -replacement of windows and new cladding to ensure better insulation and change the appearance of the centre from the outside.

Public realm - improved approach to the centre, with new paving, landscaped areas and footpaths. These will be integrated with the new playing pitch hub facility at the site.

Penwortham Leisure Centre

Poolside - replacement of all tiling, including the drainage channels of the pool itself, plus complete redecoration of the area around the pool.

Wet-side changing areas - complete refurbishment of showers, tiling, floors, cubicles, lockers and fittings, plus decoration throughout.

Dry-side areas - to be refurbished throughout, including upgrades of the changing facilities, main gym, ladies’ gym, dance studio and squash court.

Reception area - remodelling of the ground floor to open up the area, including new reception desk, circulation space and improved vending areas.

South Ribble Tennis and Fitness Centre, Bamber Bridge

Reception area - remodelling to open up the ground floor, separating the café from the reception area and introducing new seating spaces.

Courtyard area - currently considered to be an underutilised area, it will be covered to create a new flexible studio space to be used for group and individual exercise.

Tennis courts - refurbishment of court surfaces to extend the lifespan of the centre and Increase the ability of the facility to host tournaments with a national and international profile.

Dry-side area - facilities to be refurbished throughout, including flooring, décor, lighting, showers and sanitary ware.

Windows - replacement to improve thermal efficiency and the appearance of the building.

Source: South Ribble Borough Council