To update the committee on progress with the Joint Use Sports Centre transition process at Brightlingsea and Harwich, following the end of joint use agreements with the Sigma Trust on 31 December 2021.
The Committee recalled that, at its meeting held on Monday 7 February 2022 (minute 57 referred), Councillor Chapman BEM had requested that this Committee include in the work programme a revisit of its enquiry into the Joint Use Agreements for sports centres in Harwich and Brightlingsea.
The Committee had before it a report of the Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Tourism, as well as an addendum to that report, in relation to this matter. Those reports outlined the following:-
· “at their meeting on 17 December 2021, Cabinet determined the following in relation to the Joint Use Agreements for and Brightlingsea Sports Centre (BSC) and Harwich Sport Centre (HSC):
(a) “notes that the Joint Use Agreements between the Council and the Sigma Trust for the Harwich and Brightlingsea Sports Centres end on 31 December 2021;
(b) agrees to the provision of transitional support from existing resources, for up to three months, to extend the community use of the facilities where possible;
(c) invites representatives from the relevant Town Councils and the Sigma Trust to join an engagement group to meet during the transition period to work through the operations of providing community use from the facilities;”
· the Cabinet report highlighted that: ‘the Joint Use Facilities also require investment and Cabinet would need to consider the viability of investing in facilities which the Council does not own.’ The Council would have needed to invest significantly in the facilities to ensure they were fit for purpose and financially viable and stem the decline in attendances set out in the report.
· Following on from the Cabinet report, Sigma Trust have agreed to keep their facilities open to the community and are working with Council Officers to accommodate as many of the existing customer base as possible. Updates are being provided to the respective Town Councils via the engagement group which has met regularly since the start of 2022.
· The Council has arranged for a single point of contact at both sites, who are available to support existing users/hirers. These Officers have and will continue to support hirers who may have challenges in making the transition.
· To date over 90% of current hirers (50 out of 55) at Brightlingsea and Harwich Sports Centres have either agreed and signed new booking forms with Sigma Trust, or agreed in principal to the new conditions and Sigma are awaiting forms to be returned.
· There has been a trend at Brightlingsea towards block bookings and at Harwich towards more casual use. As the Sigma Trust cannot accommodate casual use, an action plan was devised of how casual use could be converted to hirers. The plan which is being worked through by the single point of contact at each site is set out in Section 2 of this report.
· In addition to the work above, local people have been asked if they are interested in establishing a new club or clubs, which would allow racket sports to continue under the management of the Sigma Trust. The deadline for responses has now passed and a meeting with those interested is being arranged. Around 20 people have come forward in Harwich and there has been no response in Brightlingsea to date.
· Given the level of interest shown by users in Harwich to form a club, the Council will work closely to support the formation of a racket sports club to block book from the Sigma Trust, and will look to invest to support its development.
· The Leader agreed at Council in February 2022 to include the proposal for investment in sports facilities in Harwich and Brightlingsea to come forward through the Corporate Investment Plan. He reiterated this point at Cabinet February 2022, and agreed that officers will develop options to be considered by Cabinet in March.
· Once the transition period is over on 31 March 2022 hirers of both facilities will become customers of the Sigma Trust, while arrangements for the Squash Courts at Harwich will be developed and reported to Cabinet in March. The booking process which has been set in place by the Trust, will also allow new customers use of the facilities.”
Members were reminded that the public had had an opportunity to express their views on the joint use facilities in Brightlingsea at a public meeting held on 9 March 2022 8.00 pm, at the Brightlingsea Community Centre, which had been hosted by the Town Council. Attendees had raised a number of points, including:-
· a show of hands indicated that there were a number of gym users in attendance, who expressed concern at the closure of the gym at the end of the month. The data on usage shows under 800 attendances of the fitness suite in 2019.
· two difficulties with booking operations were highlighted. One was accommodating a small number of bookers later into the evening and at weekends. Options for extending opening hours to meet this demand were proposed and a discussion held with one group still seeking to find a booking. The other was the operation of the booking system. It was recognised that, during the transition as groups moved over from the District Council to the Sigma Trust, the booking processes would require refining. An on-line booking system from the Sigma Trust was scheduled to be available from 1 April 2022.
· Non-group activities. Without the formation of a club, attendees who used the facilities on a casual basis without booking through a club, for example, playing table tennis, would not be able to use the facilities after the transition period ended. The difficulty for those without access to a car to drive to the facilities in Clacton or Colchester was highlighted.
Two additional decisions had been made by Cabinet regarding the development of the leisure and sport offer across the District and the involvement of the Resources and Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee to provide input into that work. This would provide the platform for how the Council developed its Sports and Activities offer around the District over the lifetime of the strategy.
The Committee was informed that the Sigma Trust had been invited to attend the meeting but that they had politely declined the offer.
After a detailed discussion, it was moved by Councillor Allen, seconded by Councillor Morrison and resolved that the Committee:-
RECOMMENDS to Cabinet that it consider allocating a level of working capital to enable community access to resume in the evenings and at weekends, with a view to councils liaising with Sport England and Active Essex to establish a body to link between the community and the Sigma Trust in the longer term. In establishing this body/company it would take into account and integrate the new Sports Facilities Strategy into their development.