CORNWALL Council has announced that at today’s Cabinet meeting, and following further negotiations, it has been confirmed that GLL will continue to operate the leisure centre at Saltash beyond March 22, 2022 – and there is also a stay of execution for Launceston’s centre.

The decision will be welcome news for campaigners in these towns who have been fighting to keep their centre open – many saying it is essential for their health and wellbeing.

A public consultation on the future provision of leisure services across the county was launched in September, which included the request from Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), the social enterprise company that runs many of Cornwall’s Leisure Centres, to change its current contract with the Council and asking for further financial support partly owing to the effects of the COVID pandemic.

This resulted in the future of the leisure centres at Saltash, Launceston, Wadebridge and Falmouth, and the hydrotherapy pool at St Austell, being cast into doubt.

While the future of Saltash leisure centre now seems more secure following today’s Cabinet meeting, no firm decisions have yet been made over the others under threat. The Cabinet has agreed, however, that Cornwall Council will provide funding from reserves so that GLL can continue running the leisure centre in Launceston until January 2023, when the Council’s lease on that facility expires and the building is handed back to the Coronation Park Trust. Cornwall Council says it will support the Trust to evaluate longer term options for leisure provision in the town.

At today’s meeting, the Cornwall Council Cabinet agreed to a change in the Council’s contract with GLL which means that GLL will no longer operate two leisure centres - Wadebridge and Ships and Castles in Falmouth - and the hydrotherapy pool at the centre in St Austell, beyond March 2022.

Cabinet members also committed to working with community groups and organisations to find a financially sustainable way to keep the Wadebridge and Falmouth facilities operating beyond the end of March 2022.

As part of the public consultation, Cornwall Council invited local groups and organisations to come forward and work alongside the council to keep those two leisure centres open.  As a result, there are several initial expressions of interest that will now be fully evaluated for viability.

Should they pass that stage, the process will then progress to business cases being formulated for the interested groups to potentially take on the running of one or more of the two Cornwall Council owned leisure centres. It was also agreed that capital funding, previously set aside to make improvements to the leisure centres in Falmouth and Wadebridge, will be made available to any new operator.

Cllr Richard Pears, portfolio holder for customers, said: “No one wants to see leisure centres close, and we want to explore every option to avoid that. I’m pleased that GLL will continue to operate Saltash Leisure Centre and that there is a plan in place to keep Launceston Leisure Centre open until at least January 2023.

“We have taken on board the views of our residents through public consultation and engagement, and the views of our fellow councillors through the scrutiny committee, as well as through the public consultation. I welcome that residents, community groups and local councillors feel so passionately about leisure services and thank the thousands of people who responded to the consultation.

He added: “We now have some interesting ideas on the table for Ships and Castles and Wadebridge Leisure Centre, and we will be working with those groups and organisations to try and find a way forward with the possibility of one-off Council funding to support any transition to a new operator to keep these leisure centres open beyond 31 March, 2022.

“No one underestimates the benefits of fitness and exercise, but the membership figures of these centres remain stubbornly low. The pandemic has affected the choices that people make, and they are accessing fitness and exercise in different ways. This has affected the viability of these leisure centres.” 

 “We, alongside other local authorities, have some difficult decisions to make to ensure our critical services and statutory obligations are met, bearing in mind that there is no statutory requirement for local authorities to provide leisure services. The Council is not in a position subsidise the running of these leisure centres and provide extra on-going funding to keep them open.”

James Curry, Head of Service for GLL in Cornwall, said: “GLL is pleased that the Saltash Leisure Centre will remain in our Cornwall partnership and that we are being given the opportunity of continuing to work hard with the local community there on forging a viable future for the facility.

“We remain committed to ensuring a sustainable way forward for the other facilities under threat of closure and, in accordance with our Cornwall Council contract, will collaborate fully with those parties and organisations interested in taking them on. As a not-for-profit social enterprise, our principal aim has always been to provide local communities with good quality, accessible leisure provision and today’s decisions are a welcome, positive way forward.”

Cllr Pears added: “The dilemma being faced in Cornwall in how to keep leisure services open and viable is also being faced by many other local authorities across the country, with around 40% currently in a similar position, as we deal with rising demand for our services, combined with the impact of the pandemic over the past two years.” 

Regarding the future of the hydrotherapy pool in St Austell which has been closed since the start of the pandemic and remains so, the Council will explore options with health professionals and other interested parties to look at alternative provision, such as using the hydrotherapy pool at the nearby Merlin Centre.

A further report on progress made towards securing the future of the leisure centres in Wadebridge and Falmouth, and the hydrotherapy pool in St Austell will be brought to Cabinet in February 2022.

The wider Draft Leisure Services Strategy will be reviewed to take account of the consultation feedback and an update will be brought forward to Cabinet for consideration in the spring.