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Meeting Details

Overview and Scrutiny Committee
6 Aug 2020 - 19:00 to 21:00
Occurred
  • Documents
  • Attendance
  • Declarations of Interests
  • Visitors

Documents

Agenda

Standard Items
VIRTUAL MEETING - LINK TO VIEW
This meeting will be a virtual meeting and therefore will not take place in a physical location following regulations made under Section 78 of the Coronavirus Act 2020. This meeting can be viewed by following this link:

LINK HERE
1 Apologies for Absence and Substitutions

To note any apologies for absence and substitutions.

There were no apologies for absence.

2 Urgent Matters
To consider any urgent matters that the Chair has agreed should be considered at the meeting.

There were no urgent matters.

3 Declarations of Interest
To note any declarations of interest made by members.

There were no declarations of interest.

4 Matters to be Considered in Private
To determine whether items contain information that is exempt from disclosure by virtue of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972.

Resolved: That all items be taken in public as proposed.

Councillor Stafford presented the reasons for the Conservative Group calling in the decision not to reopen Gurnell Leisure Centre as part of the phased reopening of leisure facilities across the borough as part of the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Councillor Stafford explained that the financial basis for not reopening Gurnell Leisure Centre wasn’t rational as repair costs should have been budgeted for in the leisure centre’s budget, staff expenses during the pandemic could have been avoided through furloughing staff and the payments to GLL, the centre’s operator, should have been reviewed due to the centre not being open during lockdown. Creative solutions had not been explored, such as a partial reopening, increased contributions from users, grants and crowdfunding.

 

The Committee heard that the Conservative group felt the additional reason for closure, due to the imminent redevelopment of the centre, was premature as the scheme had not yet been granted Planning Permission. The Conservative Group were concerned that if there was a delay in the redevelopment then the centre would remain closed.

 

Finally, Councillor Stafford highlighted the impact on users of the closure of the centre. It was highlighted that there hadn’t been an equalities impact assessment on the decision. The closure of the centre would have an impact on the most vulnerable and deprived in society, as they would be less likely to be able to travel to alternative leisure centres. The Council should be encouraging residents to be fit and healthy, especially if there was a second wave of COVID-19, rather than closing leisure centres.

 

The Chair invited public speakers to make contributions to the debate. Ellie Harrison, a local resident and Gurnell Leisure Centre user, gave a speech to the Committee in support of the reasons for call in, requesting that the decision be reconsidered.

 

Will French, a local resident, spoke on this item in support of sending the decision back to Cabinet.

 

Councillor Mahfouz, the Cabinet Member for Finance and Leisure, was asked to explain the reasons for the decision and address the concerns raised by Councillor Stafford and the public speakers. The Committee noted that:

  • It would cost £125,000 of capital funding to reopen Gurnell, and a further £100,000 in running costs to keep it open. This was due to users being reluctant to return to the centre due to COVID-19 and reduced capacity due to enforced social distancing measures to stop the spread of the disease.

  • This was money that the Council didn’t have, due to the cost pressures as a result of responding to the pandemic. The Council was having to take in year financial measures to ensure that it was able to achieve a balanced budget, which was a legal requirement. The government had promised to ensure Council’s did not lose out as a result of responding to the pandemic, however this had not materialised and the Council needed to find £30-50 million in savings.

  • The centre was well outside of its useful lifespan, and was desperately in need of redevelopment. It was an expensive building to maintain due to its advanced age.

  • This decision brought forward the closure of the centre by 3 months, as it was already scheduled to close in December 2020 to enable the redevelopment of the centre.
  • Once redevelopment had been completed of the new centre, a much improved facility would be available to local residents.

The Committee questioned the Cabinet Member on the detail of the decision. The following questions were asked:

  • What plans were in place if the planning application or subsequent development were delayed in some way? Recent examples of where this had happened were Ealing Town Hall and Ealing Cinema redevelopments.

  • Was this decision contrary to the government’s anti-obesity drive?

  • What was the timetable for the opening of the replacement leisure centre?

  • What engagement was happening with residents and center users to explain that Gurnell wasn’t closing for good, and highlighting the alternative facilities available to them?

  • Was funding available to provide transport to alternative facilities, as those who lived close to Gurnell didn’t have facilities within walking distance?
  • What engagement had taken place with Ealing Swimming Club, and how would it be kept vibrant while Gurnell was being redeveloped?

In response to the questions asked by the Committee, Councillor Mahfouz confirmed that:

  • The developer for the Gurnell redevelopment was fully on board and committed, so he was totally confident that the redevelopment would go ahead. Extensive engagement had been carried out with the Mayor’s office and Deputy Mayor’s Office to ensure that the development had the best chance of going ahead. An enabling housing development was required to fund the redevelopment of the leisure centre.

  • Although the government had announced an anti-obesity drive, they hadn’t provided any funding to assist local authorities to re-open leisure centres. Due to the financial situation overall, and the lack of additional funding for local authorities who had suffered the impact of the pandemic, many leisure centres would close for good over the country.

  • The replacement leisure centre would be open by February 2024.

  • Engagement on this decision had been delayed due to the call-in, which meant the decision couldn’t be implemented until the call in was resolved. However a communications would begin once the decision had been taken. This had happened previously for other leisure centres that had been closed for redevelopment and residents and leisure centre users had been understanding of the need for closure, particularly once the new centre was open.

  • Due to the overall budget situation, it was not viable to offer transport to local residents to other centres. However Ealing was fortunate to have a strong leisure offer, as well as a variety of facilities accessible to local residents in other boroughs close to Ealing. Many of these facilities are well served by public transport from the vicinity of Gurnell.
  • The Sports Development Strategy had highlighted a lack of pool space in the Borough, so the Council had co-designed the facility with Ealing Swimming Club so that in four years’ time the Borough would have one of the best swimming facilities in London. Alternative swimming sessions had been sought in other pools locally to ensure that users were able to continue swimming while Gurnell was closed.

In summary, Councillor Mahfouz stated that it was not financially viable to reopen Gurnell for four months, only to close it again for redevelopment. This decision would be reviewed in December and could be revisited if there were any delays with the redevelopment. The redeveloped leisure centre would mean that Ealing had one of the best swimming facilities in London. But the current centre needed to close in order for the redevelopment to take place. On balance closing the centre four months earlier would be worth it in the longer term.

 

The Committee concluded that whenever the leisure centre was closed, getting the communications to residents and users right was critical so they understood that the closure would result in a better centre once it reopened. Concerns were raised that if the development was delayed it would delay the re-opening of the leisure centre. But the Committee was reassured that the decision not to reopen the centre would be revisited in December once progress had been made on the redevelopment project. However it was recognised that this was a national issue, with a third of leisure centres anticipated to remain closed following the pandemic, and Ealing should be commended for continuing to commit to an ambitious redevelopment project of an important leisure facility.

 

Resolved: That the decision be upheld.

6 Date of Next Meeting
The next meeting will be held on 8 October 2020.

The next meeting was due to take place on 8 October 2020.

Duration of Meeting
7.01p.m. to 8.27p.m.

Additional Meeting Documents

Attendance

Name
No other member attendance information has been recorded for the meeting.
NameReason for Sending ApologySubstituted By
No apology information has been recorded for the meeting.
NameReason for AbsenceSubstituted By
No absentee information has been recorded for the meeting.

Declarations of Interests

Member NameItem Ref.DetailsNature of DeclarationAction
No declarations of interest have been entered for this meeting.

Visitors

Visitor Information is not yet available for this meeting