Cautious welcome for talks on Keynsham Leisure Centre

Published on: 06 Nov 2015

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November 2015

Council leaders’ reassurances that Keynsham residents will be consulted on the future of the town’s leisure centre and the facilities it will offer have been met with “cautious optimism”, say campaigners.

A floorplan from new contractor GLL, which took over the management of B&NES’ leisure services in July, sparked an outcry at a public consultation event in Keynsham in September as it showed no sports hall, squash courts or poolside spectator seating in the new building.

In just days, the newly formed Keynsham Residents’ Leisure Action Group collected 1,000 signatures calling for more consultation on the new development, a figure that continues to grow as the group aims to get the issue onto the agenda at the next full B&NES Council meeting.

Council leaders have moved to reassure residents, however, saying the plans were at a very early stage as they looked at location options and that it was “the very first stage of a longer consultation process”.

Councillor Martin Veal (Conservative, Bathavon North), the Council’s Cabinet member for community services, said: “We have a really good opportunity to provide new facilities and opportunities for exercise in and around Keynsham. We want to ensure we have really excellent facilities with wide appeal to the many users who value the social and physical benefits of exercise. 

“Working with our new leisure provider GLL we will consult with key user groups as we develop the detailed leisure centre proposals next year. We will ensure that the future leisure provision in the Keynsham area links into our Fit for Life strategy and the needs of our current and future population.”

Workshops on the leisure centre and its facilities are scheduled to take place from spring 2016, before a site is secured in 2016 and designs are drawn up, with a target of 2017 for construction to start.

The leisure centre’s current site at Riverside emerged as residents’ preferred option at the September consultation meeting, over Ashton Way car park and Hawkswell Field.

Town councillor David Biddleston, whose motion that the town council should demand further consultation was backed by his fellow councillors on October 13, said a growing town should expect to keep its existing sports facilities as a minimum.

He said: “I can understand some of the scepticism but I’m cautiously optimistic and very grateful that significant consultation will be taking place over the next year or so. I do think that Keynsham residents will need to continue to pay close attention to developments and not let it slip by unnoticed.”

Concerns have been raised by campaigners over GLL’s track record in other parts of the country, however, citing Swindon, where a climbing wall was closed and sports hall activities were cut back to make way for a trampoline park, despite a petition from users and with councillors unable to block the move, the Wiltshire Times reported.

Sam Bell, who was among the residents who spoke at Keynsham Town Council’s October meeting against the loss of facilities such as the sports hall, said she hoped people would continue to sign the petition to show strength of feeling.

She said: “My concern will be that that council will end up being forced by GLL to offer only profitable activities and therefore the squash courts, sports hall and spectator seating will be lost.

“I am also concerned by the ‘in and around Keynsham’ sentiment as I am worried that we will be told the facilities at Wellsway and Broadlands suffice for the loss of a sports hall. The issue is that these halls are likely to be inaccessible to residents during school hours and there have been problems trying to book Wellsway in the evenings, for example for the local badminton club.

“It is essential that the sports hall remains accessible in daytime and is in a location where those less mobile can access it.”

One organisation that makes full use of the poolside spectator seating at Keynsham Leisure Centre is Keynsham Swimming Club, where Olympian Siobhan-Marie O’Connor first trained, as secretary Dave Beament explained the volunteer-run club relies on the support received from swimmers’ parents.

He said the club was positive about the new development, however. “We are all very excited about the new leisure centre in Keynsham and the opportunities for our swimmers,” he said.

“I have been in contact with B&NES for several years now concerning the new centre and have always received from them honest and clear responses to any points I have raised. I have been reassured that the current plan is outline only and full consultation with users will take place once the detail is being worked on.

“Clearly spectator space is of the utmost importance to Keynsham Swimming Club and I’m confident that our views will be taken into full account.”

Around £17 million of funding for GLL’s leisure centre schemes in Bath and North East Somerset was approved by the Cabinet on September 9 to allow the refurbishment of Bath Leisure Centre to go ahead, leading some to question whether the plans for Keynsham’s facilities could have been raised at this point.

The full funding for Keynsham’s new leisure centre is not due to be approved until a site has been agreed and more work has been done to the plans, documents from the meeting show.

Councillor Charles Gerrish (Keynsham North), Cabinet member for finance and efficiency, said: “The current administration supports, and remains committed to, the investment in new and improved leisure centres in both Bath and Keynsham – but we want to take the time to ensure the right facilities are provided.

“We are therefore grateful for all the responses to the recent consultation and will be taking on board all the comments received as more detailed plans are worked upon.

“The next step is to decide which site to select, then undertake further consultation on the facilities to be provided, after which more detailed plans will be produced.

“In the event that the site selected is Riverside, it has been assessed there is sufficient capacity within the footprint to meet a range of leisure facilities.”

The leisure centre petition and action group updates can be found by Googling “change.org Keynsham Leisure Centre consultation”.

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