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Two options have been drawn up as D-Day looms for the future of Friary Grange Leisure Centre.
A special Lichfield District Council Cabinet meeting will take place at the Lichfield Garrick on 7th October to decide how to progress with the city’s only remaining public facility.
An initial plan to shut Friary Grange Leisure Centre from April 2020 has been paused while a review was carried out after thousands signed a petition to save the site.
And two options will now be on the table when councillors meet to decide the future:
- Continue with the planned closure.
- Keep the centre open but without the all weather pitch and sports hall.
The report recognises that both options will come with problems to overcome – the former around alternative provision in the district and the latter with the cost to the local authority.
Cllr Liz Little, Cabinet member for leisure, said in the report: “Staffordshire County Council transferred the all weather pitch and sports hall to Greywood Multi Schools Trust, which now incorporates The Friary School on 1st September on a 125 year lease.
“As part of this agreement the trust is required to make these facilities available for community use during non-school hours, but there is no specification of what this use will comprise or the cost.
“The facilities transferred to the trust will not be available to Lichfield District Council after 2020, which means the contract between Lichfield District Council and Freedom Leisure [which runs the council’s leisure centres] needs to be renegotiated.
“Freedom Leisure has indicated that it would be prepared to continue to operate Friary Grange Leisure Centre from May 2020 onwards without the all weather pitch and sports hall, but would require compensating for the impact of loss of income.
“The estimated loss of income to Freedom Leisure is £90,000 a year, set against a saving of £5,000 overheads.”
Closure could see council repaying £200,000 grant
Cllr Little’s report also reveals that closing Friary Grange Leisure Centre could lead to a bill of more than £200,000 from Sport England.
The organisation supported a makeover of the site in 2013 on the condition that the money would need to be repaid if the site stopped operating as a leisure centre within 21 years.
But keeping the site open in the short term could prevent that needing to be paid.
“Sport England has verbally confirmed that if the council continues to operate Friary Grange Leisure Centre until a new facility is available, the grant may not have to be repaid,” Cllr Little said.
“They have also confirmed that if the centre was to close with no ambition for a direct replacement, they would seek to claw back the full grant.”
As well as the financial implication of closing Friary Grange, the council report also admits that alternative provision has not been fully sourced for residents and users of the site.
Figures reveal that there were more than 130,000 uses of the leisure centre between April 2018 and March 2019.
Facing an uncertain future
Among the groups facing an uncertain future if the facility shuts are Lichfield Swimming Club and Penguins Disability Swimming Club.
Cllr Little added: “The risk of closure identified swimming pool users as those most likely to be affected.
“The council has talked to private operators within the district to understand whether there is availability and capacity at their pools, but no firm arrangements have yet been secured.
“The council has been informed that Freedom Leisure will be revising its time slots at Burntwood Leisure Centre to provide some additional capacity, but the facility is already facing demand pressures.”
The Cabinet meeting will take place at 6pm on 7th October at the Lichfield Garrick.