Options for new Hastings leisure centre and entertainment complex to be explored
The next steps of plans to bring a new leisure centre to Hastings have been given the go ahead by council leaders.
On Monday (January 6), Hastings Borough Council’s cabinet approved the commissioning of detailed surveys of the Bohemia site, which could pave the way for the building of a new leisure centre and entertainment complex.
The surveys, which are expected to cost up to £100,000 to carry out, come as part of a wider project to redevelop the Bohemia and White Rock area of the town.
Introducing the proposals the council’s deputy leader Cllr Kim Forward said: “This is absolutely the right way to proceed because we have to do all those studies on the ground, to see what it is possible to put where.
“It is absolutely right we should be setting this money aside now, because we can’t plough on with a vision of something that wouldn’t be doable given the lay of the land.
“The report also recommends we in principle – and it is in principle because it is all dependant on what we find when the studies are done – to provide a new leisure centre, a leisure water and a primary entertainment centre.
“All of these things are things that the people in our town are really looking forward to seeing come about. It is really, really important people have access to high quality leisure and sport facilities.”
The proposals, however, saw criticism levelled by Conservative group Rob Lee, who argued the scheme would be unaffordable given pressures on the council’s finances.
Cllr Lee said: “There is quite a lot of what Cllr Forward said that I can agree with, certainly the importance of good quality leisure facilities within a town and it is certainly true that some of our leisure facilities currently are not up to scratch.
“However, while I would like to support this scheme, I am afraid we are unable to. We simply cannot afford it.
“Everybody gets into local government to be able to approve new leisure facilities and things. But I am afraid we are not in a position to be able to do that. I don’t think it is entirely responsible that we go down this avenue.
“Speaking of our financial difficulties, there is a good chance staffing levels at the council might have to be reviewed as part of [the budget] process and here we are again handing over tens of thousands of pounds to outside consultants again.
“I just don’t think we can do it.”
This view was not shared by council leader Peter Chowney, however, who said: “The whole Bohemia Quarter idea, the masterplan we started off with, was always based off the idea we would have no money for this, so the whole scheme had to be self-financing. It is still based on that.
“That is why we are talking about the housing there, because that would raise the money to do the rest of this.
“We recognise – and have recognised from the start of this – that we can only consider this if it was on the basis it would require no public funding going into it, it would be a completely self-financing scheme. That is the way we are still proceeding with this.”
Cllr Chowney also argued that simply repairing the town’s existing leisure facilities would prove to be more expensive in the long term due to rising maintenance costs and ongoing subsidy.
As part of their discussions, cabinet members also considered a consultant’s report laying out what form a new leisure centre could take.
It laid out five options: repairing the existing facilities; building a like-for-like replacement; or building out an enhanced leisure centre, with three levels of new facilities.
Of these options cabinet agreed to pursue the building of an enhanced leisure centre, with the potential for an additional arts centre space should it prove to be viable in terms of funding once the project progresses.
According to meeting papers, the cost of building an enhanced leisure centre is expected to be upwards of £70m, with a high-end facility (which would include an indoor water park and an arts centre) rising to £88m.
A replacement centre would be expected to cost around £56.9m, while just repairing the current facilities would be expected to cost around £25.3m in the short term.
The Bohemia area is situated behind the seafront between Hastings Town Centre and Central St Leonards.
It includes the Summerfields leisure centre, the Travelodge hotel on Bohemia Road, White Rock Gardens and the Oval. The area also includes the White Rock Theatre, which the council says needs to be replaced in the long term.