Finally! Leisure Centres reopen but Liberal Democrats Voice Concerns About Clair Hall’s Future

Triangle Leisure Centre reopening 1st September

District councillors voted last night to reopen Mid Sussex’s three leisure centres with a phased reopening from 1st September. Customers will be asked to book all activities in advance via the Places Locker app or the Places Leisure website. There will be a 15-30 minute changeover period between each session to allow customers time to exit their activity safely and Places Leisure staff to clean the facilities. Signage will be in place to help people follow social distancing, there will be hand sanitising and cleaning stations, the number of people taking part in each activity will be reduced and cleaning regimes will be greatly enhanced. Initially not all facilities will be available such as the popular leisure swimming, so you are advised to check the Places Leisure website for updates when it was updated

Liberal Democrats joined other councillors in voting to reopen the District’s three leisure centres. The decision was taken last night at a special meeting of Mid Sussex District Council following weeks of delay.  

The deal comes with a high price tag. The Council will forgo its monthly management fee of £120,000 and instead pay an estimated £2.5 million subsidy between now and April 2021 to its leisure contractor Places Leisure, funded from the Council’s reserves. A further condition of the proposal is that the Haywards Heath community venue Clair Hall come out of the Places Leisure contract and the future of the ‘site’ be considered at ‘some future point’.

At the meeting the Liberal Democrats voted to reopen the leisure centres from 1st September, but sought to strengthen and improve it by tabling three amendments.

The first amendment sought reassurance that the future of Clair Hall would be properly assessed and that the people of Haywards Heath would not be left deprived of a valuable community asset. The other two amendments would have reassured the public that should the arrangement prove to be unviable, alternatives be scoped and robust cross-party oversight put in place. In what turned into a very ill-tempered meeting, the Conservatives vehemently opposed all three amendments wrongly describing them as ‘wrecking motions.’

Cllr Alison Bennett, Liberal Democrat Group Leader said: “It’s great news that our leisure centres will open after a frustrating summer of delays. Opening is only possible by spending millions of pounds of Council reserves. This comes with significant risk and drain on tax payers’ money. The solution agreed last night is not financially sustainable in the medium term, and will need to be revisited in the coming months. Regrettably, the Conservatives misinterpreted our amendments which would have given the public further assurance that the ongoing provision of leisure in the District is being rigorously planned and overseen.”

Cllr Richard Bates, Liberal Democrat (Haywards Heath Ashenground) who proposed the amendment on Clair Hall commented, “As a keen swimmer and member of the Dolphin Leisure Centre, I was happy to support the proposal last night and understand the need to remove Clair Hall from the contract to get leisure centres open. However, without additional reassurances I am very worried that this will be the thin end of the wedge, and we risk losing Clair Hall as a community asset. Incredibly, Conservative councillors from Haywards Heath voted against an amendment that would have made sure that the town does not lose its largest community venue.”

Cllr Robert Eggleston, Liberal Democrat Deputy Group Leader commented, “Once again we see that the Mid Sussex Conservatives seem willing to sacrifice culture and the arts. In 2018 the Martlets Hall was closed and Clair Hall was cited as an alternative venue. Indeed £35,000 of the Martlets relocation fund was used to pay for refurbishments at Clair Hall. Now it looks as though Clair Hall is also going to be chucked under a bus by the Tories.”

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