Thursday, July 05, 2018

Local Sport for Local People - UPDATE

My last post was about the redevelopment of the sports hall at William Penn Leisure Centre. FOllowing the Rickmansworth Area Forum meeting last night, I have written to all 39 District Councillors again. I enclose the text below.


Dear all,

I wrote to some of you recently, deeply concerned about the future provision of hall space to play team sport at the William Penn Leisure centre in Mill End, and I enclose the text of that letter below:

...I am writing to you to express my grave disappointment that you made a decision without consultation to change the facilities at William Penn Leisure Centre. I believe that this change will be for the worse, and to the detriment of whole community.
As part of the tendering process for the facility, I understand that the size of the current sports hall will be halved, and one half converted for use as a soft play area. The hall is a well used community facility, especially during the daytime, with many local groups including soft tennis, badminton, walking netball, return to netball, girls netball and five aside football all using it weekly. This dreadful decision will impact groups that meet at the weekend too like Tae Kwan Do where 3 generations of a family regularly take part in the sport, enabling quality time as a whole family whilst modelling that sport is something for all generations.
I do understand the economics too - whoever wins any tender, in this case Everyone Active, has to make profit on the facility, and the council need to make sure that it doesn’t run at a loss, but I’d like to suggest that if this plan goes ahead there will be significant financial ramifications, as many of these groups will no longer be able to meet at all.
When you made this decision as part of the tendering process, I believe that you did not take into account the shear number of local people who use the hall facility. I accept that some of the groups are relatively new, but nonetheless, a decision was made by you on data that was just not accurate. The netball groups probably amount to 60-80 people each week, for example.
Team sport at this level, which was specially encouraged as part of the London 2012 Olympic games legacy and is usually part funded by Sport England, is a really important part of caring for people’s physical wellbeing. I do not need to tell you the significant amount of money the NHS currently spends on ailments caused as a direct result of obesity and inactivity. Team sport such as those mentioned above are a great way to counter that rise in the present and the future. Halving the size of the sports hall prevents many of those existing team sports from being played at all on site - you cannot play netball or five aside football on half a court or pitch. You just can’t. I am aware that part of the proposed refurbishments will include an all weather 3G surface outside, but netball cannot be played on that surface, neither can badminton. By halving the size of the hall effectively stops those groups from meeting.
Team sport also builds community. As a faith leader locally this is something I am passionate about. One of the benefits of local team sport is that it brings people together who otherwise would not meet, and it allows friendships to be built. To lose the sports hall in any useable form will stop those sports happening for local people at a time that works for them. Other venues are available outside of the area (e.g. in Watford and Hemel Hempstead or indeed in some cases in the evenings or weekends), but the fact that these groups meet at a local venue at a time that suits those who attend is meeting one of your own priorities as a council for 2017/18.
The loss of this sports hall could also have other ramifications. In the event we needed to hold a big community meeting in a neutral venue, the sports hall is an ideal space. In the event of a major incident that hall will be an essential asset . I was Vicar of Leverstock Green following the Buncefield explosion. I know first hand how the Fire Service worked with Herts County Council and Dacorum Borough Council to use the hall at Jarman park for triage and temporary accommodation. Whilst we wouldn’t want to keep a hall solely for those reasons, the loss of that space could have a significant impact in a major incident.
I understand that the hall space will be redeveloped to become a soft play area. These sorts of facilities have become a God send for parents and their kids. Many of the bigger ones locally (in Watford for example) are part of bigger chains. They tend to be housed in much larger buildings with significantly more space and therefore more facilities. I am not convinced that the proposed space in William Penn with Gambardo’s for example, and talking anecdotally with local families the appeal of a bigger space is greater. Whilst soft play facilities allow parents to have a coffee whilst their children have fun but what they don’t do is model a healthy lifestyle. Children seeing and knowing that their parents play team sport though demonstrates that sport is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for all.
The introduction of a soft play area into that space in William Penn is not a golden bullet either. I am not sure that the addition of this facility on site would create sufficient revenue to offset the loss of monies from the closure of all the local groups mentioned above.
By following through on this redesign you are in effect saying to our communities that profit is much more desirable that maximising the opportunities for local people in Mill End and Maple Cross to play team sport and to take some responsibility for their own emotional and physical wellbeing. Yes, I am aware that Three Rivers are not obliged to provide our community with the sports facilities that we enjoy at William Penn, but I would argue that it would be in our shared interests to keep them and that it is probably your moral duty to maintain them for the benefit of all'

Subsequently I have had email replies from a few of you, and conversations on the telephone and in person with a couple of you and I thank you for that.

I would like all 39 of you as our representatives to be aware again, that the decisions made back in September last year as the tendering process began, and signed off in April, were made based on inaccurate information about regular hall usage on a weekly basis. At the Local Area Forum last night, it became clear that no-one involved in the decision took into account the current regular usage of many groups including wheelchair basketball, netball, taekwando and other groups. What also became clear last night was that the tendering process initially began with 6 companies offering to take on the provision, which after others withdrew for various reasons, left the council with Hobson’s choice - Everyone Active.

Good practise says that when tendering for work one should always look to have quotes from three companies/contractors before proceeding with work. It seems that the you, through your Leisure Committee, decided to run with the one offer from Everyone Active who incidentally look like they are beginning to hold a bit of a monopoly on managing facilities like this as they currently run 2 facilities in Watford, Hemel Hempstead, Berkhamstead, Slough, St Albans and South Oxhey to name only a few. I am quite frankly staggered that a tender was agreed on under these circumstances.

It became clear again at last night’s meeting, that this bid was signed off without consultation with current users or the wider community. As a contract has been signed Cllr Lloyd told the assembled that there would be financial implications for reneging on the contract signed to the tune of around £63,000 annually. I am curious to know where that figure comes from or what it equates to? Do you really believe that Everyone Active would make more than that annually in their new soft play, cafe and clip and climb facilities? I would suggest not, as bigger facilities are available at the XC in Hemel and Gambardo’s (which incidentally is running at a loss!)

This must not become a party political issue. It is an issue to do with the wellbeing and health of all of our constituents. I am well aware that some of you in receipt of this email serve wards that will benefit in other aspects of this project to do with work in South Oxhey for example, but I am sure you will agree that there are many who will use these facilities from across the district, and not just those who live within walking/cycling/driving distance.

These facilities at William Penn are a community asset. I understand that the previous provider was not managing this asset well, but I am shocked that the chair of the Leisure Committee advised that, ( it’s in the minutes) once the press and public were removed, to make a decision focussing more on finance rather than future leisure provision which could be worked out a a later date.

I have also written to David Bibby, MD of Everyone Active, to ensure that he is up to speed on the feeling of some within the community

I look to hearing back from you and seeing you at up coming Leisure Committee and full Council meetings within the next fortnight.