Consultation launched on withdrawing leisure services across borough

By Aimee Belmore and Charlotte Green

A PUBLIC consultation has been launched on withdrawing services from three of the borough’s loss-making leisure centres, including its bowling centre and trampoline park.

At a meeting of Tameside Council’s executive cabinet, members agreed to the consultation, which started on February 12, on initial proposals to withdraw Active Tameside services from Adventure Longendale, Active Oxford Park and the Etherow Centre.

When not closed under lockdown measures, Active Longendale, on Manley Grove in Mottram, currently offers a trampoline zone, laser zone and a soft play area for children.

Located on Pottinger Street in Ashton, Active Oxford Park offers a range of fitness facilities, including a gym and a sports hall with three courts.

The Etherow Bowling and Activity Centre, run by Active Tameside, is on the upper floor of the Etherow Centre – a former railway warehouse – on Market Street in Broadbottom.

Active Longendale, on Manley Grove in Mottram, currently offers a trampoline zone, laser zone and a soft play area for children.

The council says it will ensure the future of these buildings is informed by a wider estates review later in the year.

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened the financial pressures on the leisure trust as lockdown restrictions have meant its facilities have been closed for most of the year. From 20 April to 20 December, the charitable trust lost £5million in income.

In November the council agreed a £1.8m loan to keep Active Tameside afloat for the remainder of the financial year.

If the trust were to become insolvent, officers say it would likely lead to the permanent closure of all of the gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools it runs.

The council currently commissions services for adult and children’s health and social care from Active Tameside to deliver the ‘Live Active’, ‘Active Education’ and ‘Everyone Can’ programmes.

And during lockdown and the pandemic they have run initiatives such as the ‘Great Active Takeaway’ to support those in need across the borough.

However they add that the current model of delivery of sport and leisure facilities is ‘not sustainable’.

“A ‘do nothing’ option is not being considered as the current situation means that urgent transformation is required to enable the council’s sport and leisure offer to remain financially sustainable,” the report to cabinet states.

Oxford Park offers a range of fitness facilities, including a gym and a sports hall with three courts

Active Tameside estimate that withdrawing services from the three facilities will save £98,000 a year.

Council leader Brenda Warrington said it was not something they wanted to do but the pandemic had forced a situation where they had to look at ‘every bit of finance’ across the whole council.

Cabinet member for children’s services, Cllr Bill Fairfoull added: “It’s with a heavy heart that we have to discuss rationalisation of the estate. However, if that means we can’t continue with the service as it is then unfortunately that’s what we’ve got to do.”

Cllr Oliver Ryan, cabinet member for finance, told the meeting that the council had always ‘prioritised services over buildings’.

“Because Active Tameside services are moving out of these buildings, the buildings won’t disappear, we’re not intending to get rid of them from our estate,” he said.

“This helps Active Tameside from a revenue position for them and we would be looking at alternative uses for those buildings and we’re exploring those options now.

“But it’s important that the communities engage as much as possible on this and people realise that if we want to sustain the great services that Active Tameside provide, then we’ve got to help them cut their cloth accordingly and Covid hasn’t helped with that.”

Cllr Oliver Ryan

The council will also conduct an Operational Estate and Portfolio review on all sport and leisure assets in the borough to ensure it has a clear strategic vision so resources are applied effectively and the delivery of services is sustainable.

Chris Rushton, Active Tameside chief executive, said: “Our quest to help the residents of Tameside live their best lives is more important now than ever.

“The pandemic has exacerbated health inequalities in the borough and we are doing everything we can to remain viable in order to address these inequalities as we emerge from the crisis.

“Over the coming months we will be faced with many challenging decisions, but at every turn the health and wellbeing of our loyal customers will be our primary consideration.

“We ask therefore for the support and forbearance of customers and stakeholders alike as we seek to become a more resilient force for good within the community.”

Cllr Allison Gwynne, Tameside Council’s cabinet member for neighbourhoods, said: “We are proud of our leisure offer and we know how valued it is by local people.

“However, the unprecedented challenges and huge financial impact of Covid-19 means we have no choice but to consider cost-saving proposals.

“By acting now, we can help safeguard the future of these services and increase our resilience against the ongoing uncertainty caused by the pandemic.”

The public consultation runs until March 26. Residents and members can get more information and have their say online at www.tameside.gov.uk/activetamesidesurvey

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