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Kingsdown Sports Centre can only be saved if taken over by another operator, council confirms

Bristol City Council has received interest from five organisations who could take over the leisure centre that campaigners are battling to save.

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Bristol City Council’s cabinet confirmed at a meeting on Tuesday (8 February) that the local authority will no longer run Kingsdown Sports Centre and instead look for another operator, or potentially the community, to take over.

Almost 100 campaigners battling to save a “vital” leisure centre held a protest ahead of the decision by councillors to pull the plug on funding.

It is part of a leisure strategy agreed by members which includes £8m to upgrade Easton and Horfield leisure centres and Bristol South Pool – although this is only half the amount required – as well as ending financial support for Jubilee Pool, which is undergoing a community asset transfer, to keep it open.

Mayor Marvin Rees told the meeting that the council had already received interest from organisations to take on Kingsdown and that the decision did not mean it would necessarily shut.

But centre users and Cotham ward councillors, who presented a 2,000-name petition urging the Labour cabinet to change its mind, fear it will now close.

Green counillor Guy Poultney told the meeting: “There is no support for this policy or for the council to stop operating Kingsdown Sports Centre.

“There is an overwhelming majority who want to keep Kingsdown as a local civic sports centre.

“We also know from the petition how many people from outside of Cotham are coming to use the sports centre.”

He said results from the public consultation showed 71% wanted to keep it open.

Campaigners told the meeting the council was basing its decision on “misleading” and “seriously flawed” information, including counting four people using a badminton court as only a single user in its assessment, which did not show the true extent of usage.

Geoff Collard said: “It is frankly insulting and disingenuous of the mayor to say you’re not intending to close the centre. 

“The effective decision is to stop operating the centre, and without council support it will go under.”

He said the local authority did not think that part of Bristol merited public money because of the relatively high income of some residents, and that this “smacks of discimination”.

Mayor Rees said: “This is not a decision to close Kingsdown. We are looking for alternative operators. It’s about searching for a solution.

“It’s not a policy to close anything down. It’s in line with our responsibility to work within the financial confines of this authority.

“I understand the passion for sport. We don’t want any sports facilities to be closed down,” he said. “We want young people to have that physical health, mental health, community buildings, sports teams.

“Our intention is that we will work with providers to modernise leisure centres and leverage additional investment from partners,” the mayor said.

“Kingsdown’s operating contract is up in March 2023. We have already had several expressions of interest from organisations who are exploring an alternative lease arrangement with us, and we are looking on those favourably as a solution.

“People do value their leisure facilities but not all problems can be solved by the council. So the decisions we take today will allow us to invest in those facilities that serve the greatest number of people and open access to leisure and exercise to our most deprived communities while looking for solutions with partners that can maintain the service offered by those other centres.”

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A report to cabinet said five organisations had expressed an early interest in running the centre so the council was “confident” it would stay open following negotiations and approvals.

It said that to bridge the £7.8m funding gap for the upgrades elsewhere, “potential providers will be asked to bring forward additional investment as part of their bids to achieve the maximum benefits at the three sites”.

After the meeting, Councillor Poultney said: “The community and people who use Kingsdown Sports Centre are understandably upset – it means a lot to us.

“We should be investing in mental and physical health. Our sports centres need our support. The mayor cut the funding anyway. It’s a disgrace.”

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  • While we all accept that the council is strapped for cash, there is little doubt that Kingsdown Sports Centre has been picked out for closure by Marvin Rees and his cabinet because unlike most other council-run sports facilities in the city, it’s situated in an area, which he perceives as rich, full of students, and generally “undeserving”. The thought process has been one that seems to assume that students can use the University facilities, while locals can afford private gym memberships, plus it’s an area that votes for what is now the biggest opposition party (i.e. the Greens) so little political blowback against Labour politicians. There is also little doubt that the analysis of activity and usage was both flawed and biased against Kingsdown compared to other centres that counted individual swimmers differently from other bookings made for groups. Hopefully ways can be found to keep both Kingsdown Sports Centre and the Jubilee Pool open, but it’s certainly not a given this will happen.

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  • Wonder if Councillor Guy Poultney voted for the referendum on the mayoral system, that in itself will cost council-tax payers £700,000 – that could have been better spent elsewhere.

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