Increased cost of Community Stadium is bad news for taxpayers

Future of Waterworld and Yearsley pools under threat

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Labour are circulating a glossy brochure ahead of the publication of a report on the future of leisure provision in the City.  Private briefings to staff and media have raised serious issues about the future of swimming and other facilities in the City.

The project will now cost £37 million in total with Greenwich Leisure (who have operated Waterworld for the last 3 years) taking on responsibility for all major sporting and swimming facilities in the City.

Greenwich Leisure are a CIC although the level of local York engagement – if any – in their management decisions and structure has yet to be announced.

Community Stadium

The project will cost taxpayers £8 million more than originally budgeted. It had been expected that a 6000 seater stadium and replacement athletics track could be built for the £12 million contribution from the John Lewis development.  The Council would have contributed only the value of the Huntington Stadium site (conservatively assessed as £4.1 million). The Football Foundation would have put in the £2 million that it had loaned against the value of a redeveloped Bootham Crescent.

Later Labour said that they would spend the £4 million contingency included in the Councils budget for the project. This had been included as a potential loan which would be repaid from stadium income.

Now Labour are stating that they will borrow an additional £4 million bringing the taxpayers contribution up to £8 million in total, with the stadium capacity increased to 8000 (it costs roughly £1 million for every additional bank of 1000 seats).

It is highly unlikely that such an additional burden could be passed on to the Football and Rugby clubs with details of their rental agreements not having yet been revealed.

At a time when the campaign forsafe standing” – backed by the Liberal Democrats is gaining momentum – local fans will be bemused that the design does not appear to provide for rail seats (although this modification could still be made)

Council taxpayers will be responsible for the debt repayment charges on the amount borrowed which will be around £600,000 a year. It is far from clear where this money will come from although some additional “commercial elements” have been designed into the scheme.

Given the controversy about out of city centre shopping, this raises doubts about how long the planning process might take and with it the ability of any contractor to meet a July 2016 opening date.

 Waterworld

Waterworld and its associated gym will close in December.

A new pool and gym will be designed into the stadium. However it will be more conventional than Waterworld with only a small “fun” pool included.

Waterworld is only 20 years old and with that kind of life one wonders how durable such facilities now are? (The Barbican pool lasted for 40 years, Yearsley is over 100 years old)

Since the opening of the Sports Village on Hull Road, the Council has met national standards for the provision of swimming pools.  There is insufficient demand to pay for an additional swimming pool (which is why Labour quietly dropped their plans for a city centre pool).

Yearsley Pool

Under Labours plans, the opening of the new pool at Huntington will mean the end of the Council subsidy (around £250k pa) for the Yearsley pool. The unique 50 yard pool has fought off two previous attempts by Labour to close it although ironically in early 2011 – following a £1 million refit undertaken by the then LibDem controlled Council – Labour invented a bogus  “closure” rumour and campaigned against something that was not going to happen.  A new boiler was fitted at the pool meaning that the steam heat supply from the Nestle site could not attract disproportionately high charges.

Yearsley Pool

Yearsley Pool

Labour have now performed a 180 degree policy about turn.

The only chance for the pool would be for users to acquire the site and run it independently as a community asset. However it is highly unlikely that that increased admission charges could make up the financial deficit – more so as it would have to complete with three other modern pools in the City not to mention those at several independent sports clubs, hotels and schools.

Its only hope would be for Nestle to relent and allow a profitable gym to be added although this might involve them losing some car parking space.

Energise

The management of Energise – the sports facility on Cornlands Road – seems less threatened by the take over plans.

The centre is very popular and no doubt Greenwich Leisure will want to keep it that way.  However standardisation of charges and facilities, together with focusing some types of provision at just one site, may prove to be a challenge in the future.

No guarantees are being offered on admission charges although heavy competition from the private sector may help to keep them down.

What next?

The Stadium project is running over two years behind timetable. The publication of a report, for decision by the Councils Cabinet on 9th September, is belated but welcome.

Residents will be looking very carefully at the business plan for the new facility as the Council – which will remain the freeholder – does not want to risk having to step in to recover a failing project a few years down the line (as happened in Huddersfield a few years ago).

The changes to the retail component of the project do raise planning issues that may take some time to resolve, jeopardising the construction start date..

Whether a July 2016 opening date is realistic remains to be seen.

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