You need to be ‘realistic’ residents told as East Cambs Council comes under fire for ‘what’s in, what’s out’ list for £14 million leisure centre

Impression of how Ely leisure complex will look

Impression of how Ely leisure complex will look - Credit: Archant

East Cambs residents were told to be “realistic” over the facilities to be included in Ely’s proposed £14 million leisure centre.

richard Hobbs (Con)

richard Hobbs (Con) - Credit: Archant

Councillor Richard Hobbs, chairman of the East Cambs Council commercial services committee, said: “We all want the new district leisure centre to be the very best it can be – serving our residents now and our communities in the future.

“The mix of facilities is currently very diverse in order to meet the needs and demands of the public from an eight lane 25 metre pool to a four court sports hall and a 3g artificial pitch.

“However we must be realistic about what is required and what we can afford”

His comments came after Lib Dem group leader Lorna criticised the Tory controlled council for not including competition level seating “or a confidence building splash pool” in the Downham Road centre.

“Conservative councillors are preparing to throw absolutely every last penny the council has into the Ely leisure centre,” she said.

“Their decision not to provide these facilities will make the new swimming pool less attractive, both to competition swimmers and to families with young children.

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Cllr Hobbs said the new pool is designed for a variety of uses “but we must be clear it is not planned to be used for region wide swimming competitions which would require over 200 spectator seats”.

Cllr Hobbs said: “Putting aside so much room for seats which would be used on only rare occasions simply does not offer value for money especially given those facilities can be found elsewhere in the county.

“We must be realistic which is why we have been talking to national sporting bodies and the wider communities about what can be delivered.

“These discussions are ongoing and will help to develop the detailed design process conclude with a planning application being submitted.

“We have crucial decisions to make in the next few weeks but rest assured we will balance what is best for the district and what is affordable.”

Cllr Dupre said omitting some features “reduces the appeal of their flagship project to a substantial number of residents, and shows just how risky the finances of this scheme are”.

The decision not to include sufficient seating for competitions, or a confidence area, was made by the council’s commercial services committee.

The committee was told that Ely Swimming Club “has indicated” that it expects the pool to meet the Sport England standard for spectator seating required for an eight-lane competition pool, which is 250 seats.

Sally Bonnett, infrastructure and strategy manager, told councillors: “The pool is not intended to serve as a competition pool but as a community facility. The principle users of the pool will be the general public for health and fitness activity.”

She said the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) has indicated that the focus of competition swimming in the area is at other locations most notably Cambridge.

“Ely does not require large scale seating to accommodate competitions,” says Ms Bonnett. “Ely is regarded as a venue for a good quality training pool to support community and club activity.”

She said the council felt the design includes sufficient space pool side for temporary seating to be provided for spectators, should any swimming club galas/competitions be held at the leisure centre.

“With regard to the confidence water area with beach, as this is considered an enhancement, rather than a requirement, its exclusion from the facility mix is supported by both Sport England and the ASA,” she said.

The council’s advisors had said that to increase seating levels to 100-150 would cost approximately £240,000 with a further £160,000 to increase seating levels to 250.

And to include a confidence water area with beach would cost approximately £180,000.

The figures exclude design fees, inflation and “respective increases to the project contingency.” Up to £680,000 would need to be added to the cost.

Councillors will not finally decide until April whether to commit to the new leisure centre for Ely – but have agreed £500,000 to progress it.

The council will only give the project the green light once they are sure of how much it will cost to build.

In June the commercial services committee heard how a public exhibition and consultation had found the priority (two thirds of people) wanted the centre to have an eight lane swimming pool. Spectator sitting was also considered essential.

Among the low priorities were a learner pool, activity studios, and a floodlit artificial grass pitch