Decision on controversial plan to change Sovereign Centre scheme

Artist's impression of the new Sovereign Centre design SUS-180507-140238001
Artist's impression of the new Sovereign Centre design SUS-180507-140238001

Council leaders have given the go ahead to update the designs of a new swimming and leisure centre on Eastbourne seafront – increasing its expected cost by almost £5m (writes Local Democracy Reporter Huw Oxburgh).

At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday (July 11), the leaders of Liberal Democrat-controlled Eastbourne Borough Council agreed to alter designs for a leisure complex intended to replace the Sovereign Centre in Royal Parade.

The cabinet had originally approved spending £24.2m on the project in 2016, with the new designs set to increase the expected cost to £29.1m.

The decision was opposed the council’s Conservative group, who asked cabinet members to delay the proposals to take a second look at a £12.5m refurbishment of the current centre instead.

Conservative councillor Robert Smart said: “What we see is another project with costs increasing and financed by ever-increasing debt, the size of which could cause issues perhaps.

“We are shocked to see that, yet again, this a project that doesn’t even cover its financial costs.

“We have as a group pretty consistently recommended refurbishment as the option. I recognise quite a lot of good work has gone on in terms of the specific options here.

“But I do expect that refurbishment is given a proper comparison too.”

Council leader David Tutt defended the decision, saying he was ‘absolutely convinced’ building a new centre was preferable to refurbishment.

He said: “I’m also concerned that if you went for a refurbishment, as well as the shorter life expectancy of that building, you would have to close that facility and leave Eastbourne without any proper swimming provision for a long period of time.”

The revised design sees several changes to the original plans, with an extended swimming pool and a climbing wall. However it drops the plans for simulated-surfing machine known as a Flow Rider and a dedicated trampolining hall.

Further details of the design were agreed at the cabinet meeting, with members choosing to invest a further £800,000 to equip the facility with a hydraulic diving pool. This brought the total project cost from £28.3m to £29.1m and the council is looking at putting forward a bid for a Sports England grant to cover the difference.

Cllr Tutt said: “I know it is an additional cost but when you are talking about an investment, which is not just for this year or next but for decades to come I believe it is right we accept that cost and include the diving as part of the proposal.”

Cabinet members also agreed to include an activity centre within the designs rather than a traditional sports hall. This activity centre is expected to include a eight-lane ten-pin bowling alley and a trampolining area, but on a smaller scale than the dedicated trampolining hall in the original designs.

A public consultation on the plans is set to take place in August or early September with a planning application expected to be submitted in December.

Building work is expected to start in June 2019 for a 2020 opening, although this timetable is subject to change.

Councillors also approved the replacement of the current centre’s managers – Eastbourne Leisure Trust and Serco – with Wave Leisure Trust, a not-for-profit group which operates the leisure centres and pools owned by Lewes District Council.

Measures to appoint Wave Leisure to take over Motcombe Pool, the Regency Community Centre and four other leisure facilities – at Eastbourne Sports Park and Hampden Park, Shinewater and Cavendish schools – were also approved.

Wave Leisure is expected to take over the leisure centre contracts in April.