The development of the former Bexhill High School to provide “a landmark leisure destination” was one of the Council’s Corporate Plan Priority Projects. The comprehensive report of the Executive Director provided the background and progress made to date on bringing this complex project to fruition.
Following Cabinet approval in September 2017 (committing £2m in finances and required resources) and July 2019 (omitting the proposed hotel due to the Ministry of Defence (MOD)) the project was separated into the two distinct projects (housing and leisure) to be brought forward separately after outline planning permission has been granted.
Following these approvals, planning consultants were appointed through a competitive procurement process to prepare and submit an outline planning application for the whole site to secure the principle and quantum of development. The outline planning was granted in December 2019 and an overview of the site parameter plan associated with the application was attached at Appendix 1 to the report.
In order to move the project forward the following steps were needed to be taken:
- complete the land assembly by the end of the 2019/20 financial year using Compulsory Purchase Order powers if necessary which would most likely extend the timescales;
- undertake negotiations to secure continued operation of the two existing facilities, i.e. the Bexhill Leisure Centre (BLC) and Bexhill Leisure Pool (BLP), in the short term from 1 April 2021 up to the planned closures;
- to minimise the shortfall in funding, consider alternative options including Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), borrowing (subject to affordability) and other funding streams; and
- appoint an Employers’ Agent and an Architect to carry out detailed design work and preparation of a reserved matters application.
To ensure continued engagement with Portfolio Holders and Ward Members, it was recommended that an officer and Member Bexhill Leisure Centre Steering Group (BLCSG) be established to receive interim progress updates and provide a steer for key operational and project delivery outcomes. The proposed draft Terms of Reference was attached at Appendix 5 to the report for consideration.
Whilst Cabinet were in favour of and committed to providing leisure facilities in Bexhill, Members were hesitant in progressing the project at this stage without detailed consideration of the project; the project scope had changed over time and the new administration were keen to ensure that the project scope was the right one. There were also concerns over the funding / potential borrowing requirements and committing at this stage a large portion of the predicted strategic CIL receipts when a review of CIL and how it was allocated was due by December 2020. It was therefore proposed that the matter be deferred until the BLCSG had met and considered the project in detail and reported back to Cabinet in April 2020.
Members were advised by officers that legal advice would be sought in the interim regarding the possibility of re-negotiating the BLC and BLP contracts and or whether the delay would require a re-tendering exercise that would potentially lead to increased costs in either case.
1) a Bexhill Leisure Centre Steering Group be established, comprising Councillors Oliver, Mrs Bayliss, Brewerton, Vine-Hall, Thomas and Jeeawon in accordance with the Terms of Reference attached as Appendix 5 to the report; and
2) the project be deferred and referred to the Bexhill Leisure Centre Steering Group for recommendation to Cabinet in April 2020; and it be confirmed that the Cabinet is committed to providing a Bexhill Leisure Centre and Leisure Pool.