The Future of Maidstone Leisure Centre – Dispelling the Rumours
For several months now rumours have been circulating that Maidstone Leisure Centre is set to be demolished. Despite the efforts of Maidstone Borough Council to set the record straight the rumours continue to circulate and, on each telling, seem to translate into something worse; recently the word is that the land will be used for housing. There is no foundation to these rumours which have largely been sparked by inaccurate articles in the local press, but they have been unsettling both for staff who have concerns over their jobs and careers, and for those considering investing in improvements and developments at the Leisure Centre.
Therefore, the Maidstone Leisure Trust, who run the leisure centre, has decided to issue this statement explaining the actual situation and would encourage any interested party to point others towards it and, if further clarification is needed, to contact the Trust directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First a bit of history to explain where we are today and how we got here. In the early 2000’s, for a variety of reasons, local authorities were busy divesting themselves of responsibility for running many of their facilities and subsequently outsourcing the provision to other operators. Against this backdrop, in 2007 Maidstone Borough Council put the running of the Leisure Centre out to tender and the recently formed Maidstone Leisure Trust, under the chairmanship of Paul Alcock at the time, was awarded the contract in partnership with Serco Leisure. In 2009 the contract was re-tendered to take account of changes in the regulatory framework and the Maidstone Leisure Trust/Serco Leisure partnership was again awarded the contract with a 15 year lease to give all parties the opportunity to make plans and investments with the security of a fixed, longer term operating period. Since that time, in line with the operating agreement, there has been significant investment in the Leisure Centre by both Serco and Maidstone Borough Council and the Trust has been re-investing its share of operating surpluses into the development of sport and active leisure around the borough of Maidstone.
What’s in the Pipeline?
Fast forward to 2018/19 and, with around 5 years remaining on the lease, the time has come for all interested parties to begin the review process in readiness for the end of the current contract period in 2024. As is always the case under these circumstances, the end of a contract period gives all parties the opportunity to review and plan to make sure that the council tax payers of Maidstone are continuing to benefit from the best facilities possible within the constraints of funding, local resources and local need. Consequently, a review of the current facilities (both the leisure centre itself and the wider provision of sport and leisure facilities in the Maidstone area) sits alongside plans and wishes for how the future of sport and active leisure in Maidstone is to develop over the coming years. As far as Maidstone Leisure Centre is concerned, whilst the building itself is showing signs of age, the facilities on offer, especially the range of water-based pools and activities, are amongst the best in Kent and there is no appetite whatsoever for reducing the breadth of this facility. The question is how to maintain and build on it.
It is absolutely right that Maidstone Borough Council should now be reviewing the future direction of the Leisure Centre alongside its wider plans for the provision of sport and leisure facilities in Maidstone. This they are actively doing and they will undoubtedly, and rightly, be considering all options and consulting widely. Maidstone Leisure Trust is fully supportive of MBC in this process, is committed to help develop their plans, and will be tendering for the new Leisure Centre contract in 2024. In the meantime, investment in the Leisure Centre continues with a significant planned re-furbishment of the gym and the installation of improved disabled facilities under the Changing Places scheme. Both of these initiatives require significant finance and neither would be happening were there any expectation of the imminent closure of the Leisure Centre.
So we ask those responsible for circulating unsubstantiated stories in the local community to step back and look at the quality of leisure and sports provision that the town has to offer. The Leisure Centre is and will continue to be, central in that provision so we invite everyone to support us and take part in the forthcoming consultation process to ensure that the residents of Maidstone get the best sport and leisure facilities possible.
Chairman – Maidstone Leisure Trust