This week, we are celebrating the recent hard work and achievements of Newport Pagnell Town Council, in Milton Keynes.
Newport Pagnell is an active council, with 16 councillors serving its population of just over 15,000 (2001). We have been made aware of a significant project conducted by the council in recent years, which we would like to share as a fantastic example of best practice amongst our membership.
Newport Pagnell Town Council managed Middleton Pool on behalf of Milton Keynes Council from 1998 to 2014. With a very strong and popular swimming school, the pool serviced not just residents of the town, but the wider Milton Keynes community too. The facilities included a 33m indoor swimming pool, a training pool and a large sports ground. In 2014, grant funding for managing these facilities was reduced from £210,000 (2010) to £0 in 2014 and the projected loss that year was £163,000. The ventilation system at the pool needed replacing at a cost of £187,000.
Late in 2013 the Town Council considered the following options:
To surrender the lease and return the facilities to Milton Keynes Council
To increase precept to cover the annual revenue loss
To use existing reserves to repair the ventilation system
To take out a public works loan to build a fitness suite next to the swimming pool in an effort to increase income streams.
To engage in a partnership arrangement with a charitable trust or a commercial leisure operator.
On the first option Milton Keynes Council advised that they would not be investing in repairs to the ventilation system, which would reduce the lifespan of the pool significantly, as it has already begun to cause rot to the timber roof frame.
Consultation showed high resistance from residents to closure of the facilities, whilst a 23% increase in precept to fund the loss was not viewed as an appropriate option by the Town Council.
Although the income stream from a new fitness suite was attractive, the costs of building one at £1.1M pounds proved prohibitively expensive.
The Town Council sought expressions of interest from both commercial and charitable leisure trusts as to the level of interest in taking on these facilities. A wide response was received with several different options put forward on the best way to facilitate the on-going management of the facilities.
Following a tender process, in 2014 the Town Council engaged Places for People Leisure Trust to both manage the facilities and to build a new gymnasium entirely at their cost. The Town Council committed to funding the refurbishment necessary to the ventilation system and roof.
The fitness suite opened on 6th April 2015, exceeding Sport England standards for such a facility.
The partnership arrangement entered into between the Town Council and the charitable trust has resulted in the following many benefits for the town and the wider Milton Keynes population. There is now a convenient, direct debit on-line system for booking swimming lessons; improved safety through the installation of underwater camera and a new 50 station gymnasium, offered to the public at extremely reasonable rates. With new schools sports events, challenge days, and mixed sports open days, the sports ground is getting more use by the community and relations with the local tennis, football and cricket clubs that use the sports ground have improved too.
NALC is pleased to learn that Instead of a precept increase to allow for running leisure facilities at a loss, the Town Council has gained an income from the arrangement in the form of a concession fee.
The project has served to protect the lifespan of Middleton Pool, has provided new leisure facilities, has increased community use of the facilities and has resulted in cost savings for the Council.
We very much hope that other councils across the country can learn from the approach and decisions made by Newport Pagnell Town Council.