Arun Cabinet Meeting 11th February
The Meeting was preceded by about a dozen questions from the public, all on the subject of the Leisure Strategy. Most were given answers, but a few will receive written replies, and this includes a letter from Littlehampton Town Council (which was not read out) and a query from Cllr Tyler who's not in the Cabinet, who insisted that provision of Cinema is a Core Service which Inspire Leisure are under Contract to Provide. This seemed to put the Cabinet on the back foot, because repeatedly in answers to questions about the Windmill, either Cllr Dendle who provided all the answers to the public Questions or other Councillors rehearsed a mantra saying that Inspire Leisure is an Independent not-for-profit Trust and the price of ADC giving direct instructions to Inspire might be the loss of Trust Status, requiring Inspire to pay vast amounts of back tax, so it was entirely a matter for Inspire Leisure whether they provided cinema.
Questions ranged from Sports Pitches at Ford, to Bognor Seafront, the Options for the Littlehampton Swimming Centre, community involvement in Littlehampton Seafront, and several about the end of cinema at the Windmill and the prospect of revival with new digital equipment.
Cllr Walsh, who chairs the Leisure Working Group, but is not in the Cabinet and so had to ask questions from the floor, was clearly enraged by the Agenda introducing an additional Option for the future of the Littlehampton Swimming and Sports Centre that had not been discussed in the Working Group appointed to review the Strategy. Needless to say, and quite predictably, this was the Option the Cabinet preferred.
The main business of the meeting was to consider the Report by Philippa Dart (Arun Assistant Director Environmental Services) advising the Council of Collier International's recommendations for the Leisure Strategy.
Her Report begins by referring to 'an overwhelming response by the public'. And was the Cabinet awed by this public response? Not a bit, it stood firm, and wasn't overwhelmed at all. Hoorah for the Thin Blue Line!
David Geddes of Colliers International commenced his Sales Pitch by benignly reassuring the Council that criticism in the Press and by the Public was unjustified and that the whole process had been carried out in the most proper way, spectacularly missing the point that it was his Company's methodology that was being criticised, and that in the public's perception he may not be the person to judge the quality of the process.
When it came to discussing the Strategies there may have been a feeling among the Bognor residents in the Public Gallery that disproportionate time was being given to Littlehampton Issues, but for some reason the Bognor Issues were regarded as uncontroversial following the undertaking not to dispose of Swansea Gardens. Now it could be a case of the squeakiest gate getting the oil (but thin and synthetic oil, and not much of it), or it could be the proposals for Littlehampton are more destructive and justified the level of dissatisfaction.
After zooming through the 'uncontroversial' items, the new Option 3 for the Littlehampton Swimming and Sports Centre was presented. The Consultants provided a Comparison between the options of re-furbishing and enlarging the existing centre and providing new and larger on a new site.
The cost of providing the all-new facility is at least 2.5 times the cost of the refurbishment. The amount of additional accommodation is in the order of 50% more, so the unit space cost of the new provision would be approaching twice the cost of refurbishment.
The totality of the argument provided by the Consultants' Salesman was to say that although the new-build may seem to cost more, it would in fact be cheaper. No analysis or factual data was provided of life-time costs. Diagrams and figures were presented suggesting that moving to a specific site near the Academy would bring a much larger population within a five-minute car journey, totally arbitrary and anyway only taking account of distance, not congestion and road design.
The assumption was that by being larger it would appeal to more people who would be prepared and able to pay more. This would also be helped by moving the Building closer to that centre of wealth, Wick.
Councillors, particularly Councillor Wensley who was noticeably exited by Option 3, thought the fact that people would be able to walk to a new centre was a deciding factor, unlike the existing centre which a large number of users walk or bike to. This is the same Council that has allowed, and is allowing, a massive increase in out-of-town-centre retail development which involves longer travel distances by a far greater number of vehicles.
Councillor Wensley also had an expectation of a 50-year facility, but they are proposing to axe the current facility at around 30 to 35 years, and are saying the Felpham Leisure Centre is obsolete in a similar time-scale, and we note that the two previous Aquarena bulidings in Worthing lasted from around 1962 to 1975 (demolished because of structural failure), and 1975 to 2011 respectively, so at most 70% of 50 years seems to be a realistic life.
Now it strikes us that if - as stated - refurbishing and extending the Seafront Building extends its life for 15 years, and the life of a new larger Centre is 30 to 35 years, the cost advantage doesn't seem so wonderful, especially as it's postulated on greater usage and takings (which thus of course has potential for greater liabilities and losses too). If the existing building were EXTENDED as well as refurbished, the new extensions should have the same life as the new Centre, so after 15 years it's possible only further refurbishment of the oldest parts should be required, not a scheme of works comparable to what's needed now. None of this has been factored in to the Consultants' conclusions.
Once the presentation was over, the Cabinet ran quickly through the recommended Strategies, adopting Option 3 on the way, and making a small number of revisions, including removing the weasal words 'at this stage' after the undertaking not to pursue development of Swansea Gardens in Bognor Regis.
The next item was the other controversial issue, future provision of venues for performing arts and cinema in Littlehampton. The adopted Strategy aims to provide a mixed development in Littlehampton, after some to-ing and fro-ing with logic and semantics about whether or not it had an effect on the outcome or sent the wrong signals, it was decided to name possible locations as 'St Martin's Carpark, The Windmill, or some other site in Littlehampton'. There is no mention of cinema provision. Nor was there mention of the likelihood of actually persuading a commercial provider to jump in, given the marginal economics of performance art. At this point Cllr Elkins pointed to the very substantial reaction to the loss of the cinema, and made an attempt to get the word 'cinema' included, which was dismissed by the often repeated litany of 'infringing the Trust Status of Inspire'.
For some reason the Cabinet doesn't believe specifying 'performing arts' would be considered to be issuing a directive to Inspire Leisure, but the mere mention of 'cinema' would be. We were not impressed by ADC's lack of creativity in coming up with forms of words that would show the Council really supports cinema (or does that simply reveal the truth??), which would be perfectly possible to do without actively directing Inspire. One Councillor, probably Cllr Bowers, thought specifying 'cinema' amounted to 'Micro-Managing' Inspire's activities!!
The Newsletter sent out to the mailing-list subscribers follows below, which tends to simply state the outcomes rather than describe the meeting...
Leisure Strategy - Outcome of Cabinet meeting 11th February 2013
The seven members of the Arun District Council Cabinet met this Monday to decide their recommendations on the fate of the Windmill and our Swimming and Sport Centre, both on Littlehampton’s seafront. Other elements of the long-term Leisure Strategy which affect greater Littlehampton residents, such as the seaside park enhancement, were also voted on.
The following highlights the main decisions of the seven Cabinet Members (none from Littlehampton) which it must be said run counter to local public views, the results of the Councils own Public Consultation, “Have your Say,” that was conducted in the Autumn of 2012, and the positions our elected local Councillors in Littlehampton and Rustington have taken on these questions about our collective future.
There was a large public presence and some fifteen questions were raised in the public session.
Swimming and Sport Centre
The Cabinet overturned the previous recommendation of the Leisure, Tourism and Infrastructure Working Group made in January 2013 that the Leisure Centre be kept where it is and improved. Cabinet voted instead to build a new Swimming and Sports centre somewhere in Littlehampton, on a site to be decided in the future.
The existing pool will be upgraded in the short term (to the value of £350,000) to keep it going until a new pool is built, and it will remain open until the new pool is operational.
In answer to a question it was stated the new Centre, when built, will include a five pitch Sports Hall. Cabinet said it will be decided later what will happen to the current site of the Leisure Centre site on the seafront.
The Council’s Consultant gave a revised presentation on the benefits of a Leisure Centre in a new location. The fact that the Town Council, Rustington Parish Council and 52% of those consulted Distinct wide thought it was in the right place was not mentioned. And other surveys of only greater Littlehampton residents show 95 % of area residents thought it was in the right place.
Interestingly the Consultant produced figures which show that Littlehampton is significantly worse off in Swimming Pool provision than national averages indicate is needed. Even a new pool would still not bring the area up to the provision required. Perhaps, by the time the new pool is built, population growth will mean there will be a strong case for having both pools.
The situation remains much the same. Under the general heading of ‘Enhancing Littlehampton’s Seafront and Riverside’ ADC aim to facilitate the delivery of a hotel, cinema and restaurant, sometime after 2016, when the current lease on the Windmill expires. ADC will look to provide a mix of uses either in the St Martin’s car park (the preferred site for a multiplex Cinema), or at the Windmill site (planned for a hotel and splash Park in the Consultants recommendations), or another site in Littlehampton.
The Windmill will be available for amateur productions until 2016.
It was stated that provision of Cinema will be dependent on a Cinema Club being feasible, as Inspire Leisure has taken the decision to cease providing Cinema at the Windmill. However the public reaction to this cessation and the prospect of a cinema club being set up seems to have prompted the Cabinet to see what more can be done to help reinstate cinema at the Windmill. Cllr Dendle said that he and John Norris would be looking at cinema provision elsewhere in the area to seek ideas for an operational model that would work for the Windmill.
Cllr Tyler raised the question of who, in ADC, has authorised Inspire to drop the provision of cinema as he thought it was part of Inspire’s contract. Nigel Lynn, ADC Chief Executive, replied that he would have to look at paperwork and promised a written reply.
Littlehampton Seaside Park enhancement plan
In answer to a question Cllr Dendle stated that Residents Associations and Societies will be fully engaged from the start of, and throughout, the planning process so that local views, including what options are to be considered, are fully reflected in the plans.
We are hoping that new models for community engagement in the planning process can emerge as part of the implementation of the water front park enhancement, in keeping with government policy on consultation processes and the era of localism.
The full Council will debate the Cabinets recommendations at its meeting on 20th March. Once again we need a good public attendance so please put the date in your diary. The meeting will start at 6pm, with 15mins of public questions at the start.
Where to next
We are discussing with the Littlehampton Civic Society whether a third community led public meeting should be held sometime in March before the full ADC meeting on 20th March, to brief the community on what the Cabinet decisions mean and seek views from the Community on next steps. By March, we will know more on how the Windmill cinema club is progressing in its aim to provide some form of cinema at the Windmill, run on voluntary model, until 2016.