Cheshire East Council is currently consulting on their Strategic Leisure Review. The deadline for responses is 7th January 2024 and can be accessed via their website:
The response from the Parish Council can be read here:
Holmes Chapel Parish Council has RESOLVED (C23/24/100) at its meeting on Thursday 14 December 2023 to make the following response to the Strategic Leisure Review Consultation.
1. Holmes Chapel Parish Council (HCPC) accepts that Cheshire East Council (CEC) now finds itself with financial challenges. However, we are unable to accept that because of a lack of financial jurisprudence, the council is now claiming a shortfall in finances of £18.7m – an increase from £12m announced at the end of September. What are the reasons for this increase in the shortfall?
2. CEC also says that “the council needs to secure minimum essential savings in leisure services of £479,000”. There is no explanation of how this figure is derived but in conversations with Tom Shuttleworth, we understand this is a minimum figure and the review of the MTFS may possibly increase this financial savings requirement.
3. HCPC has not responded to the online questionnaire as we strongly disagree with the tenor of the questions; they imply a pre-determination and narrowing of the analysis of the responses.
4. The original report provided to the Environment & Communities Committee (E&CC) contained erroneous and incomplete figures on current usage of Leisure Centres and in particular the Holmes Chapel Leisure Centre which forms part of the Holmes Chapel Comprehensive School buildings. These facilities are used extensively by the school, residents and others for the purpose of health and sports activities, and by the community organisations for other events such as concerts. The consultation questionnaire makes no reference to these activities. (See below on CEC responses to our FOI questions.) The speed by which the consultation appeared after the E&CC does not reflect the significant objections and comments made at that Committee meeting on 9th November 2023. It is therefore our opinion, that this questionnaire is not a true reflection of what CEC should be seeking in this consultation.
5. CEC has stated that their aim is to look at “potential ways funding for leisure services can be targeted to deliver the greatest impacts on the health and wellbeing of Cheshire East’s residents – while also ensuring that essential savings can be made”. It is the strong view of this Parish Council that the health and wellbeing of all residents is important. The arbitrary manner in selecting areas such as Holmes Chapel, Knutsford, Middlewich, and Poynton is iniquitous and discriminatory. All areas in Cheshire East are subject to the same Council Tax and services should be supplied to all without any discrimination. It can be argued that prioritising provision in areas of deprivation, as proposed, will not necessarily improve health outcomes. The key to that goal is engagement and commitment from residents, not simply provision. CEC’s current proposals will deny facilities to committed residents in favour of those with little or none, which is grossly unfair.
6. Much is made of ‘providing leisure services in the areas of greatest need’ within the Cheshire East. HCPC finds this premise very objectionable as it discriminates and could preclude the provision of services to many of its residents who may be considered in need. It also ignores the long-term health impact if services are removed. Holmes Chapel may be considered a ‘healthy’ area now, but if services are removed, that would swiftly change. Where is the consideration of the long-term? This consultation strikes the Parish Council as being a panic response to the financial situation CEC faces, with little consideration of the long-term impact.
7. The report considered by the E&CC included a reference to the 3G pitches at the Holmes Chapel Leisure Centre and implies CEC ownership. This is a clear error; these pitches are owned by the school and Everybody Health & Leisure (EH&L) manage the bookings for these. This same premise is implied at the other locations where closure was proposed. We understand from a meeting with the school that ownership responsibilities has now been clarified and accepted by CEC.
8. Holmes Chapel is a Local Service Centre, providing many facilities to the surrounding community. The fitness and well-being of all these residents would be seriously affected if Leisure Centre facilities are not available.
Validity and FOI questions on information
We asked some FOI question of CEC and these, with the response provided, is shown below with our further comments:
Who was consulted outside Cheshire East Council, in the preparation of the Strategic Leisure Review to be presented to the Environment and Communities Committee on 9th November.
CE Answer: The recommendation presented to the Committee was to go out to consultation therefore no one was consulted prior to the meeting as this would prejudge the outcomes of a wider consultation.
Although Leisure Centres are attached to schools and are integral to providing facilities for pupils and for the community at large, schools were not consulted in any way in connection with the proposals. The implication is that Cheshire East is expecting the schools to pick up all the maintenance and utility costs if these facilities are to remain available to the schools.
It also assumes that somehow the schools may be expected to pick up the costs of making the currently available leisure facilities to the community at large.
What dialogue has now taken place with our school on this subject and what agreements have been reached with them to keep these facilities available to the whole community?
We are aware that EH&L is making proposals to CEC on what it can do to provide some savings to CEC and the Parish Council expects CEC to make us (and all other Towns & Parishes) aware of what these proposals are. We know that EH&L do not want to see any facilities closed.
How much time and how many officers were involved in the preparation of this review and who was the senior officer involved in signing off the recommendations?
CE Answer: It is not possible to quantify the time other than a broad duration that the review was conducted over which was approximately 4 months, there were 4 officers involved in the review. The report was shared with the Senior Leadership team and signed off by the Chief Executive for presentation to the Environment and Communities Committee.
It is our understanding that this Strategic Leisure Review was commenced some two years ago. We are shocked that only 4 months of time from 4 Officers has been deployed towards the review. Surely such an important subject as the health and well-being of all residents of Cheshire East, deserves more time and careful consideration than this.
Was Sport England engaged at any point in the preparations of the Strategic Leisure Review?
CE Answer: No Sport England were not engaged in the preparations of the review.
Sport England has a remit to ensure that facilities that provide sport and recreation activities to support health and wellbeing of communities is not diminished. It is a legal consultee on any planning matters that affect these facilities. And yet CEC Officers chose not to consult with them. Why?
How were the maintenance and utility costs calculated for the Holmes Chapel and Middlewich Leisure centres, as stated in the Strategic Leisure Review (SLR) presented to the Environment and communities Committee on 9th November, as distinct from those costs attributed to the school?
CEC Answer: The figures are based on actual costs paid for utilities costs and maintenance costs at the leisure sites.
What is the detailed breakdown of those costs?
The detailed breakdown of these costs for each site is as the table below:
Holmes Chapel Leisure Centre
These figures do not differentiate between school use and when the community is using the facilities. If the Leisure Centre assets are transferred to the school Academy, we are sure that the school will be looking into this subject further. This makes an improved accurate assessment on potential cost savings more essential so that the figure can be reflected into the savings CEC expects or hopes to achieve.
The prices of energy have been reducing and CEC is encouraged to ensure that all anticipated energy costs are examined by engaging some expert opinion to determine what could be achieved. In other locations, savings have been achieved by adopting alternate energy sources such as solar or heat pumps. What is CEC doing to explore a greater use of these types of energy provision?
How were the usage figures calculated for the Holmes Chapel Leisure Centre, included the Strategic Leisure Review report presented to the Environment and Communities Committee on 9th November?
CEC Answer: The usage figures were derived from data provided by Everybody Health and Leisure (EHL) which were based on access to areas of the leisure centre sites by registered members.
The usage figures provided will then only be looking at the small gym and not at all the other facilities such as the sports halls and outside pitches. The gym has 100+ registered members but EH&L members registered at other locations can also use the facilities. The Paris Council is pleased with membership levels for the gym and fitness facilities at the Holmes Chapel Community Centre are currently circa 1,400. Many of these members also use the other facilities at the Leisure Centre.
What data was used and were bookings for the sports halls, 3G and grass pitches included?
CEC Answer: Usage figures for the sports hall, 3G and grass pitches were not specifically included in the assessment process, unless the users were registered EHL members. This was a consistent approach across the wider leisure estate.
See Parish Council comments on usage. If this is the narrow assessment done on usage, it does not reflect the importance of the Leisure Centre facilities to the Holmes Chapel and surrounding community.
Q Were the bookings calculated as an individual booking, or the number of people using those facilities under each individual booking?
CEC Answer: Neither the Council nor EHL hold the data to accurately determine how many people use the facilities under each individual booking.
This calls into question any analysis on usage. A health and well-being assessment without having this information cannot be accepted.
Parish Council responses to the online Questions
Alternative leisure service delivery approaches
HCPC believes that the current operational management – outside school use - should continue with EH&L. We understand that fees charged by EH&L for use of the 3G and grass sport pitches, after deducting a small fee to cover expenses, is passed to the school who are the owners of these outside facilities. It is assumed that this can continue if the Leisure Centre assets are transferred to the school Academy. The Parish Council would like assurances that it will be involved in the Asset Transfer discussions to ensure its significant investment in the facilities and use by the community is protected.
The small gym at the Leisure Centre is used by school pupils under supervision and available to EH&L registered members. This should continue and no doubt EH&L can better advise on suitable membership costs. The CEC Options scheme should not be applicable for users of the gym.
We understand from meetings with Tom Shuttleworth that transfer of ownership of the Leisure facilities to the school, would be at no cost to the school. This would possibly be done by a ‘125 year lease arrangement in a similar fashion to the asset transfer of the other school buildings at the time of Academy creation.
HCPC, through a Joint Use Agreement established when the facilities were built in the 1970’s has a financial interest in the facilities. CEC gave notice of the termination of this agreement in 2021 and the agreement expired in May 2023. However, we believe that the considerable sum that HCPC invested in the facility was to ensure that it was always available for all the community to use. We have a clear responsibility to ensure that this beneficial use by our residents is retained.
The usage figures provided by CEC only reflect the use of the gym, outside school hours and do not reflect community use of the main and small sport halls for all types of indoor sports and community use. The recent FOI we submitted regarding how usage figures were calculated show that this additional usage was not included in the report. However, such usage figures are vital when looking at the impact and importance of such facilities for our residents.
Proposed changes to the concessionary membership scheme (called Options)
HCPC believes that a reduction of 25% to 15% in membership fees and only offer the scheme to Cheshire East residents is supportable.
Proposed change to prices for out-of-borough leisure service users
As it is Cheshire East residents who pay indirectly through council tax for leisure services, then any users from outside Cheshire East should be charged a higher amount. We are confident that EH&L can provide useful and comparative information from other areas that will provide an objective assessment of what these should be.
Focusing future council investment into Leisure Services
HCPC has already made comment on this subject above. Any discrimination applied to attempt to diminish the provision of leisure services to all its residents will be strongly opposed.
Any attempt to close or reduce access to any leisure services, including swimming pools, will have a serious detrimental effect on all residents, not just those who live closest. Travel costs and time to journey to remote locations will cause residents to no longer seek the benefits of leisure services and therefore have a direct bearing on their health and well-being. Any short-term financial gain of closure will be lost with the devasting long-term impact of a loss of well used facilities is realised, both in terms of financial loss (when new facilities are needed to replace those lost), but health, well-being and safety (when children are unable to access much needed swimming lessons and health conditions are worsened by the loss of facilities which support health).
CEC must take time to gather proper evidence on usage and not reduce the answer to a competition on numbers.
CEC owes a duty of care to all its residents. HCPC believe that our residents are also owed that duty of care and that CEC would be failing to fulfil this responsibility if the closure or reduced usage of any leisure facility were to be considered.
We believe that Asset Transfer of the facilities to the school and a continuing management relationship with the school by EH&L will ensure that the facilities remain available to the residents of Holmes Chapel and the surrounding community.