Leisure centres won't open till September
If you want to go back to the gym in Exeter as soon as government restrictions are lifted, you'll have to go private. The city council's leisure centres are staying shut until 1 September. These include Exeter Arena and the ISCA Centre, Northbrook Swimming Pool, the Riverside Swimming Pool and Leisure Centre, Wonford Sports Centre and the Pyramids Leisure Centre.
Right now, the centres are outsourced by the council to a private operator called Legacy Leisure, but its contract isn't being renewed at the end of August. After that, the council will run the centres itself, opening them in stages when they believe it is safe and cost-effective to do so. Staff will become council employees. More than £1.5 million has been set aside to cover the costs of the transfer and the re-launch the services, and another £330,000 to make sure they're covid-secure., together with IT systems and and re-branding.
Separately, the new leisure centre on the bus station site, know as St Sidwell’s Point is to get £1.5 million for the fitting-out stage, subject to full council agreement. Previously that would have been funded by the new operator as part of a 10 year contract, but will now have to be funded directly by the council.
WHY ARE SERVICES BEING BROUGHT BACK IN-HOUSE?
Director Jo Yelland told a council executive meeting that: “Invitations to submit initial tenders were issued to four shortlisted bidders on February 20, 2020, and the incumbent operator was not one of the shortlisted bidders. But in light of the extraordinary situation, the decision was made on April 1 to suspend the procurement process.
“Given the Council has not yet awarded a new contract members are presented with a unique window of opportunity to change policy to an in house model. The uncertainty and risks in continuing with the procurement process mitigate significantly against some of the disadvantages with an in-house approach."
Recommending bringing the service back in-house, Cllr Phil Bialyk, leader of the council, said: “It is early days, but I really want to return this service back to the council so we can better respond to the needs of the people of Exeter. We are making a brave financial and political decision and we have pulled something out of the crisis. We have no further excuses and just ourselves who can get in the way as we will be in complete control and the people responsible and to blame, but I have every confidence in the council to carry out this and hope the people in Exeter will support this.”
The decision was welcomed by Cllr Andrew Leadbetter, leader of the Conservative group, and the leader of the Progressive Group, Cllr Kevin Mitchell, who said: “We welcome the council taking this opportunity to build back our city in a different way. This move is clearly the right thing to do at this challenging time for our city. It will help secure jobs at a time when our economy is under great strain and protect our vital leisure services.”
WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE WHEN THEY REOPEN?
Leisure centres will have reduced capacity, one way transit in and through facilities, no competitions or spectator activities, minimal access to showers or changing rooms, pre-booking and pre-paying for all facilities/activities, “just in time” arrivals will be encouraged and individual arrangements for people with disabilities.
At Exeter Arena, it will be possible for small club groups to potentially return, while the ISCA Fitness Suite/ Indoor Bowls could operate with reduced capacity and to utilise the social area
At the Riverside Leisure Centre, the studio could accommodate small group exercise classes and the spin studio could accommodate small group spinning. The sports hall could be repurposed for group exercise or to allow some badminton or table tennis, while the large fitness suite and small functional fitness area could be used with restrictions on numbers
At the Northbrook and the Pyramids, ‘beach ready’ swimming will be encouraged, as would family/ bubble group swimming. The Pyramids would be suitable for aqua fit and managed lane swimming and learn to swim could be accommodated in Pyramids learning pool. The Pyramids small fitness suite could be used with restrictions on numbers.
At the Wonford Sports Hall, the large four court sports hall which could be repurposed for group fitness classes while limited badminton is possible. The Outdoor Court could be repurposed for group exercise although noise nuisance risk would need to be managed, whole the small fitness suite could be used with restrictions on numbers.