The future of Friary Grange Leisure Centre

Frequently asked questions

What’s changed to make it possible to keep the centre open?

We held a special Cabinet meeting on 7 October, and in recognition of the strength of public feeling about the proposed closure, changes to the lease terms offered by the county council, and new information in relation to a Sports England grant and potential funding for repairs and maintenance, Cabinet voted to keep the centre open, subject to approval by full council on 15 October 2019.

Since the first decision was taken, the county council have revised their lease offer to us. They are now prepared to offer us a lease of less than 10 years, on significantly more favourable terms and conditions. This gives more flexibility and reduces the financial risk to the council. The new lease will mean we can give 3 months’ notice to close the building, instead of five years, should anything need to be fixed that goes beyond our budget. It also means we can hand the building back to the county at the end of the lease without having to fund any significant repairs.

Other changes since the first decision was taken include the potential for S106 income (generated as a result of development in the district) that could be used to support the refurbishment works, and the potential removal of the threat of repayment of a Sports England grant, if the council continues to operate the centre until a new facility is available.

This means we can hopefully keep Friary Grange Leisure Centre running long enough, barring any major structural repairs being required, while we plan and start to develop a new leisure centre.

Given the decision has only extended its life, how long will the centre be able to stay open?

We have set aside £695,000 to carry out the repairs and keep the leisure centre open, which includes a contingency of £297,000 to allow for unknown challenges that might arise. We hope this will help us to keep the doors open for up to five years and until a new leisure centre is built.

However, if the building requires work that we have not budgeted for over and above the £695,000, then the building is highly likely to close because it is unlikely additional funds will be available.

What will happen if the money that’s set aside to keep the leisure centre open runs out?

If the repairs and maintenance budget runs out before a new leisure centre is developed or opened, we cannot guarantee that Friary Grange Leisure Centre will remain open.

We will review any additional budgetary requirements as and when they arise, and depending on the scale and cost of works required, we will make the best decision at that point. At this stage we cannot rule potential future closure of the leisure centre, should the budget run out.

How long will the repairs take?

We envisage the repair and maintenance works will take at least 40 weeks, once the contract is let. This will not be until early 2020 as leases and agreements with Staffordshire County Council and The Greywood Multi Schools Trust need to be put in place first.  

While we will work to minimise the disruption, and the centre will not be closed in full during the works, there may be some partial closures to allow the works to take place safely.

We will aim to deliver the majority of works outside of normal opening hours.

Is the council committed to building a new leisure centre?

Yes, we are committed to delivering a replacement swimming pool and will be working on how and where this can be built as a top priority. We don’t yet know the shape of the centre, and where it will be located, but we will share our plans as our work progresses.

Cabinet has recommended to budget to borrow £5 million to help build a new facility, but this will only fund a swimming pool. Without additional finance we can’t guarantee this funding alone will give the community what it wants from a new centre, such as a learner pool, a new gym and sports hall.

If we seek to deliver a larger leisure centre, we will need to source additional financing from other avenues (such as a private investor or grant funding).

When will the new leisure centre be built and opened?

We can’t say at this stage, but we have been looking at Sports England models, and know that a centre can take up to five years to build, depending on its location, scale and the funding needed to deliver it.

If we seek to deliver a larger leisure centre than the current £5 million we will budget to borrow, we will need to source additional financing from other avenues (such as a private investor or grant funding), which could extend the project timescales.

We will share the timeline as our work progresses.

How will the new leisure centre be funded?

Cabinet has recommended to budget to borrow £5 million to help build a new facility, but this will only fund a swimming pool. If we seek to deliver a larger leisure centre then we will need to source additional financing from other avenues to add to the current £5 million.

There are various options open to us – the council could enter into partnership with a private operator to part fund a new centre or apply for grant funding. We will explore all these options and more as part of our appraisal and select the option that offers best value for public money and delivers the best facilities at the best price.

Where will the new leisure centre be located?

We are looking at a number of locations and will share details as our work progresses.

Despite the leisure centre remaining open, will any bits of it close?

No, we plan to keep all parts of the site open as part of the refurbishment works (see below re sports hall and all weather pitch).

Will customers still have access to the sports hall and all weather pitch?

Access to the sports hall and the all weather pitch will remain the same until April 2020, after which they will be managed by The Greywood Multi Schools Trust. We understand these will still be available for public hire, outside of school hours, which will be managed by the school. We do not have any details on how bookings will be managed.

Will leisure centre memberships be affected?

No, leisure centre memberships will not be affected.

Will Freedom Leisure still run the leisure centre?

Yes Freedom Leisure has committed to continuing to run the leisure centre.

Will any staff/jobs at the leisure centre be affected?

Some casual hours may change due to the sports hall and synthetic pitch after April 2020, but no full time roles will be directly affected.

Why can’t the school take on the leisure centre in full?

The school has told us it does not want to manage the leisure centre in full.

Why is the building in such a state of disrepair?

The building is over 50 years old. Significant and ongoing repairs have been carried out over its lifetime, but there has been no budget to do a full scale replacement of the building and it is now nearing the end of its useful/economic life.

Maintenance will help to prolong its life, however will not address the underlying issues such as the need for replacement roofs, new plant and machinery, new internal and external structures, and hence the building has a limited life span, which is why we are looking to ensure a replacement facility is built in the long-term.

Why did you sign the novation agreement?

The novation agreement handed over the county council’s responsibility for the sports hall and all weather pitch to the Greywood Multi Schools Trust, but guaranteed continued public access to the facilities until April 2020 under our/Freedom Leisure's management.

Not signing the novation agreement would not have prevented the hall and artificial turf pitch from transferring to the trust in April 2020, but it would have affected the school’s academisation plans, which Staffordshire County Council have a legal duty to support.