New lease agreements for Hartsdown and Ramsgate leisure centres to be made with Your Leisure

Hartsdown pool reopening

Thanet council will issue new lease agreements for Ramsgate and Hartsdown Leisure Centres with operator Your Leisure.

At a Thanet council Cabinet meeting last night (September 22) deputy leader Cllr Reece Pugh said the original lease agreement with Your Leisure dates back to 1999 and includes a number of buildings which YL no longer runs.

The existing lease covered Northdown House, Margate Winter Gardens, Hartsdown Leisure Centre and Ramsgate Leisure Centre and expires in October 2024. YL also manages beach huts along the coastline and provides services for coastal wardens during the summer season.

The Winter Gardens lease was surrendered to Thanet council in August. YL is also no longer based at Northdown House and its agreement to run Theatre Royal was also ended in April.

The new leases would be one for each leisure centre and a new service concession agreement will also be reached covering foreshores, beach huts and possibly coastal public toilets.

Cllr Pugh said the decision was influenced by the financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic and future viability as well as the lack of council funding to provide a subsidy.

During the pandemic much of Your Leisure’s operations, such as theatres and leisure centres, were closed. The meant trading income was down by £1.28million in 2020 compared to 2019.

There are also outstanding liabilities in the region of £8m for loans for Hartsdown and Ramsgate leisure centres. YL repayments are around £600,000 per annum but the council is guarantor for the loans and early redemption attracts penalties. YL’s failure would mean the loans would have to be redeemed, including penalties, and this could amount to an £8million cost to the council.

There is also the issue of the ongoing and substantial maintenance, repair and refurbishment costs. Hartsdown pool is currently still closed due to damage suffered during storms in February and this closure is expected to go into early 2023. .

Cllr Pugh also added that there was a possibility of using money from the £22m Margate Town Deal Fund but did not expand on how much or where it would be spent.

During the meeting Cllr Helen Whitehead suggested some services, such as foreshore, could be brought in house (to TDC) and Green councillor Mike Garner suggested “investigating alternative providers for all services currently provided by Your Leisure.”

Cllr Pugh said it was important “to be positive about Your Leisure” while Cllr Jill Bayford said YL did not receive enough credit for its work and Cllr Ash Ashbee said leisure providers had been struggling even before the covid pandemic.

However, it was agreed to have a meeting with the shadow cabinet and all political group leaders to discuss the options further.

The new, separate leases will have break clauses and there will also be Green Clauses’ to ensure the properties meet the council’s net zero pledge:

These will include reducing emissions from the leisure centres, energy and water use efficiency improvements, changing  lighting to LED by 2030 at the latest and for one of the leisure centres to not use gas for heating but have ground source heat pumps installed by 2030 instead.

Cabinet members agreed for officers to oversee the surrender of the current lease and the arrangement for the new leases.

Following the meeting Cllr Garner said: “As I said at the meeting, I believe it’s important for us, as a council, to investigate all options, including looking at alternative providers, before making any decisions about renewing Your Leisure’s contract to run our leisure services.

“Despite what was said by Cllr Bayford at the meeting, this is not about denigrating the way Your Leisure currently operates but about making sure we get best value out of these services. Not just financial best value but also to make sure all of our residents are able to use and benefit from these services.

“I’m happy that the Leader, Cllr Ashbee, agreed to meet with the shadow cabinet and group leaders to discuss this before making any further decisions.”