Eastbourne Borough Council says it ‘remains committed’ to building a new leisure centre to replace the Sovereign Centre despite timetable changes, councillors have heard.
The comments came as the council’s scrutiny committee met on Monday (September 2) to discuss options for redeveloping the site once the current Sovereign Centre building is demolished.
Much of the discussion centred on recent press reports that the £29.1m plans to build the new leisure centre had been put on hold and could take several more years to come to fruition.
The original timetable for the project (as approved by the council’s cabinet in July last year) predicted construction work would have begun in June this year, but no planning application has come forward so far.
Despite these timetable changes, council officers told councillors the authority ‘remains committed’ to building the new centre and was carrying out due diligence on the project.
Jessica Haines, the authority’s head of commercial business, said: “The council remain committed to the development of the new Sovereign Leisure Centre.
“As part of the process of due diligence – given that it is a significant investment with a budget of £29.1m – there is a process being undertaken to truly make sure we understand where exactly we are in the market.
“There is lots happening, which could affect any kind of construction project, which we will need to be mindful of.
“We are working really closely with [project manager] Clear Sustainable Futures through a very well set out process for our joint venture, to fully assess all of the construction costs and the revenue income and operator market at the same time.”
Ms Haines also said that the council is currently looking at adding an alternative energy centre to the scheme, would produce energy from sewage and reduce the building’s carbon impact.
The council’s cabinet is due to consider whether to allocate funds for further work on this proposal when it meets next week, Ms Haines said.
Committee chairman Caroline Ansell (Con, Sovereign), however, asked what impact the addition of the energy centre would have on the overall timescale of the scheme.
Cllr Ansell said: “This application is going forward in September, but how long do you envisage this new due diligence and testing of the business case will take?”
In response, Ms Haines said the decision on whether to include the energy centre would be ‘fundamentally important’ to the whole project, as it would affect the wider design of the new leisure centre.
According to council papers, a final decision on including the energy centre would be made in February should further investigation of its addition be approved by cabinet next week.
In light of these new developments, Cllr Ansell said she would want the scrutiny committee to look again at the wider project and the finances behind it in the future.
Cllr Ansell said: “I think we are all agreed this could potentially be a very exciting project. But it is important that we ask all the right questions this side of a massive expenditure.”
Later in the meeting discussion turned to the options available for redeveloping the existing Sovereign Centre when it is no longer needed.
The options had been considered prior to the meeting by a task and finish group, which concluded that some form of residential or mixed use development may be the best fit.
The task and finish group said it would like to see this development include some form of small convenience store, beach huts and some form of water leisure activity, if possible.
Plans to build a hotel, arts centre, supermarket or other commercial premises on the site were also considered but dismissed due to concerns about their potential impact on other areas of the town.
The task and finish group’s recommendations were supported by the scrutiny committee, which recommended the proposals to the council’s cabinet in turn.
Cllr Pat Rodohan (Lib Dem, Upperton) said: “I just want to emphasise that we are very fortunate that we have a unique seafront plot of land available for development.
“One of the things that did come up at the meeting was that we could perhaps have a competition of various architects to come up with an iconic scheme for the site.
“It is an opportunity for us to gain capital receipts and revenue income, which will help to fund many other things on the agenda of the council.”