Councillors agreed the move last night
Last night’s meeting saw Exeter City Council vote to include all of the land at Clifton Hill as part of the site to be marketed for a mixed residential development.
Cash generated from the sale will be used to fund upgrades to leisure facilities across the city, but also to fund the repairs to the fire-damaged Riverside Leisure Centre.
But despite the dry ski slope being included in the sale, councillors said that an alternative ski slope site in the city should be found to ensure the ski club continues to operate.
Councillors heard that around £9m could be generated from the sale of the Clifton Hill site, but that would nearly half if the ski slope land was not included in the sale, and unless the council generated ‘best value’ then Riverside would more than likely be mothballed as they could not afford to repair it.
A petition of 2,600 signatures against the decision to sell off the ski slope was presented at the start of the meeting by ski club member Valerie Jarrett, who called on the council to exclude the ski slope from the sale, saying that the stark reality was that the ski club stay at Clifton Hill or they have to close and that proposals for a virtual ski centre at Exeter Arena were not good enough.
Cllr Chris Musgrave proposed that the council’s own place scrutiny committee recommendation to exclude the ski slope from the land that would be put up for sale be adopted.
The Green Party councillor said: “This is a chance for you to put your money where your mouth is if you want to make Exeter more active. You will be letting the residents down with such an unpopular decision so please do the decent thing and prevent the sale of the ski club.”
Cllr Andrew Leadbetter, leader of the Conservative group, added: “Scrutiny, local members, and huge numbers of people want this to be saved. We have been lectured tonight about how green the Labour group are, how they listen to people, and how they want to encourage leisure and activity, so listen to the local members and scrutiny and vote to save this.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Kevin Mitchell added: “Labour members have argued in the past that better swimming facilities could help produce a world class swimmer, but I argue we could have a world class skier if we keep this.”
But Cllr Pete Edwards, the Labour leader of the council, said that if the ski slope land was removed from the sale, the total land value of the site would be reduced by around £5m and that the amendment would mean the council could not afford to repair the Riverside.
Chairman of the place scrutiny committee, Cllr Luke Sills, said that despite voted in favour of excluding the ski slope land when the committee met, regrettably he had to support the sale of the whole site.
He said: “I cannot support the amendment because of the balancing act and the weighing up of selling this or not repairing the Riverside. But we are desperate to work with the ski club to relocate you and find you a new location, and I believe it will be a real one, not a virtual one.”
Cllr Natalie Vizard, who represents the Newtown and St Leonards ward in which Clifton Hill lies, said that with a heavy heart, it pained her not to vote for Cllr Musgrave’s amendments. She said that saving the ski slope put the Riverside in jeopardy, but saving the Riverside meant the ski club was under threat, but added: “A ski club must be retained for the city.”
She was supported by Cllr Richard Branston who said: “The council should secure an alternative ski slope site in Exeter.”
Councillors voted against the amendment to not sell the ski slope land by 23 votes to nine with all Labour councillors present voting against the amendment with the Conservatives, and the sole Liberal Democrat and Green councillors in favour.
Two further amendments – one to keep more of the green space from being sold and a second that if the cost of the sale of the land was lower than £8.5m, the lowest cost estimate for the sale, then it would come back to full council – were lost as well.
Cllr Ollie Pearson said the latter amendment would negate the council’s ability to get best value for the land and Cllr Edwards told Cllr Musgrave to ‘stop playing silly games with your list of amendments’.
After nearly three hours of debate, Cllr Edwards proposed that the recommendation of the executive, to sell the whole of the land at Clifton Hill, be accepted.
Cllr Matthew Vizard back him, saying: “Painful though the decision is, I cannot vote against it with the impact being the mothballing or permanent closure of the Riverside and lack of investment in any other facilities in the city. The ski slope site is important to the value of the site, but none of us relish this horrible decision on an enormously difficult issue.”
Portfolio holder for Health and Wellbeing, Communities and Sport, Cllr Phil Bialyk, added: “We need the extra investment to keep the Riverside Leisure Centre open, and contrary to other questions to be asked tonight, we do intend to keep it open.”
Councillors voted by 23 to nine to sell the whole of the Clifton Hill site, to allocate a budget of £200,000 for ground investigation works, and to allocate a further capital budget of £4.4m for the full replacement of the flat roof and rebuild of the floor structure surrounding the pool at the Riverside Swimming Pool and Leisure Centre.
The full repairs to the fire-damaged Riverside Leisure Centre will cost £5.6m, but there is a £1.2m underspend in other leisure budgets the council has.
The leisure centre, where a huge fire broke out in February 2017, suffered damage to surface coatings, mechanical and engineering plant, roof decking and structural elements, as well as smoke damage throughout the facility.
The pool and health suite remain closed and no opening date has yet been identified after issues with the roof were only discovered during the final stages of the fire-damage reinstatement works.
Clifton Hill, built in 1984, had been shut since March due to heavy snowfall which caused a major leak in the roof.
The council said the cost of repairing the building was estimated to be in the region of £700,000, and would have taken up to a year to complete and that many of Clifton Hill’s facilities would have been replaced by the controversial St Sidwell’s Point Swimming Pool and Leisure complex scheduled for opening in December 2020.