Consultation launched on withdrawing leisure services across Tameside

Friday, February 12th, 2021 8:23am

By Charlotte Green, Local Democracy Reporter @CharGreenLDR

Bosses in Tameside are to consult on withdrawing services from three of the borough's loss-making leisure centres, including its bowling centre and trampoline park.

At a meeting of the executive cabinet on Wednesday, members agreed to launch a public consultation on initial proposals to withdraw Active Tameside services from Adventure Longdendale, Active Oxford Park and the Etherow Centre.

When not closed under lockdown measures, Active Longdendale, on Manley Grove in Mottram in Longdendale, currently offers a trampoline zone, laser zone and a soft play area for children.

Located on Pottinger Street in Ashton-under-Lyne, Active Oxford Park offers a range of fitness facilities, including a gym and a sports hall with three courts.

The Etherow Bowling and Activity Centre, run by Active Tameside, is on the upper floor of the Etherow Centre – a former railway warehouse – on Market Street in Broadbottom.

It is not clear whether the three centres will permanently close to the public if the services are withdrawn following the consultation, which begins on February 12.

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the financial pressures on the leisure trust, as lockdown restrictions have meant its facilities have been closed for most of the year.

The town hall says that the reopening and closing of centres during lockdowns has resulted in a loss of almost £1 million a month in lost trading income.

In November, the council agreed a £1.8 million loan to keep Active Tameside afloat for the remainder of the financial year.

If the trust were to become insolvent, officers say it would likely lead to the permanent closure of all of the gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools it runs.

The council currently commissions services for adult and children’s health and social care from Active Tameside to deliver the ‘Live Active’, ‘Active Education’ and ‘Everyone Can’ programmes.

However they add that the current model of delivery of sport and leisure facilities is ‘not sustainable’.

“A ‘do nothing’ option is not being considered as the current situation means that urgent transformation is required to enable the council’s sport and leisure offer to remain financially sustainable,” the report to cabinet states.

Active Tameside estimate that withdrawing services from the three facilities will save £98k a year.

Debbie Watson, assistant director of population health told councillors: “The report asks for permission to consult on initial proposals which look to withdraw Active Tameside services from those facilities that have been operating at a loss in recent years and to allow the buildings to be then reviewed and informed by the council’s strategic asset management plan.”

Council leader Brenda Warrington said it was not something they wanted to do but the pandemic had forced a situation where they had to look at ‘every bit of finance’ across the whole council.

Cabinet member for children’s services, Coun Bill Fairfoull added: “It’s with a heavy heart that we have to discuss rationalisation of the estate, however if that means we can’t continue with the service as it is then unfortunately that’s what we’ve got to do.”

Coun Oliver Ryan, cabinet member for finance told the meeting that the council had always ‘prioritised services over buildings’.

“Because Active Tameside services are moving out of these buildings, the buildings won’t disappear, we’re not intending to get rid of them from our estate,” he said.

“This helps Active Tameside from a revenue position for them and we would be looking at alternative uses for those buildings and we’re exploring those options now. 

“But it’s important that the communities engage as much as possible on this and people realise that if we want to sustain the great services that Active Tameside provide, then we’ve got to help them cut their cloth accordingly and Covid hasn’t helped with that.

“The buildings won’t be disappearing tomorrow, the services will be removed from there but we can always look at alternatives.”

The Local Democracy Reporting Service asked Tameside council to clarify whether the centres and the facilities they provide would be closing or whether an alternative provider would be brought in to run them in place of Active Tameside.

In response a council spokesperson said: “The council’s commitment to deliver and commission services that help improve the borough’s health and wellbeing remains as strong as ever but the drop in income and member demand as a result of the ongoing pandemic means Active Tameside and the council are looking at new ways of delivering these services.

“We are therefore reviewing the current sport and leisure assets, which includes a public consultation on proposals to withdraw Active Tameside services from those facilities that have been operating at a loss in recent years – Adventure Longdendale, Active Oxford Park and Etherow Centre – and to ensure the future of these buildings are informed by the Strategic Asset Management Plan (SAMP).

“A public consultation is being launched on Friday (12 February) when residents will be able to get more information and have their say at www.tameside.gov.uk/activetamesidesurvey.

“The council needs to ensure that it has a clear future strategic vision for the future of all its sport and leisure facilities, so that resources are applied effectively and the delivery of services is sustainable.

“Therefore an Operational Estate and Portfolio review will also be conducted on all sport and leisure assets within the borough.

“This will ensure that local people enjoy high quality sustainable leisure facilities that meet the needs of communities, reduce inequalities and maintain and improve the quality of their lives.”

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