Cancelation of Western Way project backed due to public services financial uncertainty
20 Sep 2023
Cancelling a major leisure centre project while reinvesting in current Bury St Edmunds facilities and continuing plans for Olding Road will reduce short term financial risk – West Suffolk Council Cabinet have recommended.
The move follows national uncertainty for public and household finances with rises in interest rates, inflation and the cost to deliver much needed services.
Instead, the Cabinet, which met last night, 19 September, supported plans for West Suffolk Council to reinvest in essential maintenance of the existing Bury St Edmunds leisure facilities to ensure it remains open during these challenging times, using an existing £724,000 a year budget.
A report will now go to the meeting of the council on 26 September on the change of plan for Western Way leisure facilities.
The move follows councillors looking at the Western Way project in the light of economic uncertainties around build costs and interest rates plus the even greater financial burdens being placed on public services across the UK. All of which add further financial risk to the project and the council’s funding at a challenging time and when residents rely more and more on council services.
While West Suffolk Council’s financial position remains robust some other authorities across the UK have had to bring in emergency measures and Government help to meet the financial pressures made worse by the current poor health of the economy.
The move means the council can look at possible alternatives for the Olding Road site while maintaining leisure services in Bury St Edmunds. By concentrating on re-investing in the current facilities the council can also look to attract outside funding for the centre which needs essential maintenance.
Councillor Cliff Waterman, Leader of West Suffolk Council, said in a statement:
“Keeping leisure centres open and helping to improve the health and wellbeing of local communities is a priority. But to do so in this cost-of-living crisis means we need certainty over our budgets so we can continue to deliver high quality services and initiatives. Given the level of investment involved, Western Way is a massive project and potential financial risk during this national economic crisis.
“These proposals are a sensible way forward and safest in terms of short-term risks to the public purse while ensuring communities still have access to much needed leisure services.
“The council, like all public services, is facing extreme pressure from inflation, interest rates and the energy crisis. In May, we said we would be considering the Western Way project before making any final decisions to proceed. We understand the original aspirations for Western Way but things have changed since the original case was made and we have to take our decision to proceed in 2023, and not in the past.
“We believe that the challenging economic conditions mean it is right to cancel the leisure centre project at Western Way and re-think the re-use of the Olding Road site.
“Staying in the current building means we are able to apply to the competitive national bidding processes for Sport England support for existing swimming pools and also government decarbonisation budgets which are only available to existing buildings. However, there is no guarantee we will get this funding.
“There are abortive costs in stopping the project, but with the present uncertainties the risks of carrying on could be greater. At this time around £2.4 million of the previously agreed capital project has already been spent and the council will be using as much of that work as it can in helping look at options going forward. Some of that funding paid for works that would have needed to be done, whatever option is chosen. While the majority will be abortive, to spend even more at this time would be too risky.
“It is right we make sure we can continue to deliver leisure services, while meeting the financial challenges that have seen other councils fail. We will continue to act in a prudent way that keeps us safe.”
An initial report will be presented to Council on 26 September which will include a recommendation to start work on refurbishment of the current leisure centre as soon as possible.
It is hoped a report will be made on new options for the Olding Road site by early 2024.