Please release me

On the day after my article about Oak Park Leisure Centre, and the odd case being made for it’s replacement, Walsall Council felt the need to issue the following press release. I have no idea why.

Like many such Walsall missives, it’s more interesting in respect of what it doesn’t say, that what it does. The wheeling out of Ellie Simmonds name is also rather ironic, as Walsall could never provide the facilities for her to train, so she moved to Swansea instead. I find that kind of illustrative.

Note there’s absolutely no mention of the Leisure trust that the Council is hoping will drive this scheme, and also that sports bodies – seen for some reason as a cash cow – are allegedly to fund the project.

Still can’t see it myself.

The site layout of the slated replacement for the ageing Oak Park Leisure Centre in Walsall Wood. Click for a larger version.

Walsall Council PR 8452 31/10/2012 [For Immediate Release]

Update on plan for two new leisure centres

Ambitious plans are being drawn-up to build two state-of-the-art leisure venues in Walsall.

As part of a two-pronged multimillion package, Oak Park leisure centre in Lichfield Road, Walsall Wood is set to be replaced. Plans are also being drawn-up to replace Bloxwich leisure centre in Bloxwich Road.

Councillor Anthony Harris, portfolio holder for leisure and culture in the Walsall Council coalition, said: “In Britain, 2012 has been a landmark year of sporting success the like of which we’ve never seen. Heroes like our very own Ellie Simmonds as well as Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah have blazed a trail.

‘We want to help in our own way to inspire a generation to take up exercise and while we don’t want to jump the gun we think the proposals we have are very exciting.’

Walsall Council leisure bosses have been in funding talks with Sport England, the Football Association and the Amateur Swimming Association and other sports governing bodies for the package.

At Walsall Wood, a new leisure centre would take shape next to the current site which could feature an eight lane 25m pool, six court sports hall, spa, 100 station fitness suite, dance studio and meeting rooms.

The Council’s Planning committee will consider the application on December 13.

At Bloxwich, a new complex could take shape with a six-lane 25m pool, a second smaller pool, four court sports hall, spa, 80 station fitness suite, dance studio and meeting rooms and two squash courts. Development of this site is slightly later however planning permission for Bloxwich will be sought early in the New Year.

If all goes to plan, both centres could be open in 2015.


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15 Responses to Please release me

  1. Gazza Thomas says:

    They may find that the deeds hold a barrier to all this!

    • Indeed – I pointed out the trust status of the land inte previous post, and linked back to the article that covered the 2010 land swap to satisfy the Charity Comission on the original building.
      This is all a bit messy for my liking.

  2. David Evans says:

    Hi Bob
    I would like to see the Trust Document..which set up the Oak Park playing fields many years ago. My long-held understanding is that the whole site was created for the people of Walsall Wood. Now, as I am sure that the authority ..with the invaluable professional guidance of its legal department ..operates with the utmost integrity in all matters, perhaps this “deed” could be made publicly publicly available as, say, today’s press release, so that we Walsall Wood residents can be assured of total clarity and transparency in this matter, not to mention legality..and approval and permission even.

  3. tkevcro says:

    To right Bob using Ellie Simmonds name is very ironic, as Walsall could never provide the facilities for her to train, and the proposed facilities wouldn’t change that either. Also they say they are funding talks with the Football Association???? do they know that they are building on the only usable full size football pitch on the site and no provision to replace it?

  4. martin says:

    Put yourself in the position of a senior manager in sports and leisure for a couple of minutes:
    you’ve got neighbouring boroughs with shiny, new centres (Sandwell, Cannock,Wolverhampton) and others giving residents free access (Birmingham). You’ve got an embarassing local who won a gold letterbox yet trains in a foreign country where they fund sport differently, and then those Olympics have gone and got everyone all sports mad.
    You haven’t had a pay rise in two or three years and the facilities you’ve got to play with are a bit shite (servicable, but stil a bit shite). Your service is already cut pretty much to the bone so you haven’t got a lot of room for manouvre when they come asking for cuts.
    You look around and see what your neighbours have done and wonder if you can do the same.

    Leisure Trust? Brilliant!
    Solves all our problems – borrow shitloads so we can have a payrise (god knows, we deserve one; we, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, doing the impossible for the ungrateful, etc, etc,etc), build shiny, new centres (think of all those big, juicy purchase orders you’ll get to sign) and stave off the threats of redundancy for you and your chums and sail off into the neo-quango regions where you won’t have to cut anything for a few years (nasty big cuts looming if you stay where you are, don’t forget). As always, Walsall is at least 5 years behind, so what was a good idea when the neighbours did it isn’t such a good idea now…

    Unfortunately, all the sporting bodies, Sport England, UK Athletics, The FA, or whoever, are a bit skint, having had to dig deep to subsidise the very games which have insipred our lardy residents to use the facilities which, on visiting, they find are a bit shite and want replacing, and they’ve had their funding cut by central government too…
    Anyway, as is the way of these things, a certain momentum develops and, with luck and a fair wind, critical mass is achieved and money is found from somewhere (usually the National Lottery: Walsall residents spend loads on scratchcards, so give some back).

    This, however, is where it goes tits up in Walsall – these projects almost invariably depend on ‘matched funding’ so the council will be expected to stump up a share for whatever is proposed.
    Since they can’t fill potholes, open libraries all day, every day, pass an Ofsted inspection in childrens’ services, run schools properly, it will be interesting to see if any money is found down the back of the corporate sofa; I doubt it. I think they’ll promise it but it’ll fail to materialise.

    Or will it be like the Giggle Port ? planning permission granted, ‘zoned for development’, ‘targeted for growth’ , ‘a place for enterprise’ but in reality it’ll just stay a patch of muddy wasteground?

    When all the dust settles, I’ll bet we get a Leisure Trust, senior officers will get a pay rise but we won’t get a new leisure centre before 2020…any takers?

  5. martin says:

    Sorry, I forgot to include musings about facilities in and around Willenhall. Since the ancient, decrepit, but very lovely Willenhall pool etc closed, residents have been expected to go to Wednesfield. That’s all very well, but it isn’t Walsall so any WS residents’ offers aren’t valid, nor are WV offers available.
    I wonder why they haven’t decided to build a brand, spanking new facility in the Willenhall South/Short Heath/Bently & Darlo North area, where there is currently zilch (and where need is possibly greater) rather than replace existing facilities?
    I’d go for new facilities where there is currently nada, and then renew existing, but then what do I know? I’m just a resident.
    I’ve finished now.

  6. tkevcro says:

    Yes your right Martin but what if the three wise men, Harris,Sears and Flowers(why you need 3 Tory councilors for the same area I dont know) have something up ther sleeve like the developement of land where the present building stands and car park area to put up a Pizza Hut or McDonalds and other coveniences to bring in money, maybe the reason why Mike ‘Burger Boy’ Flower has joined the support for.
    Another thing that seems to have surfaced again as it did about this last year is moving the library to Oak Park again,then why did they not come up with this idea some 3 years ago(maybe more)when they moved to coppice rd at a cost of £120,000 or more to have the building adapted,they new then the losses they were incuring.

  7. Doopster says:

    Martin that is brilliant! You should write a Blog of your own, I’d pay to read it!

  8. The Bear says:

    hi bob having been an avid follower of the oak park debate on your blog i have sifted through pages of council meetings and minutes /decisions the original planning application was to be submitted on 31 oct will now be submitted on 12 dec (FACT)
    on the 14 dec a bid will be submitted for funding to SPORT ENGLAND (ICONIC) FACILITIES (FACT)
    So whatever anyone thinks it is going ahead
    Also only 21 days are allowed for any objections to be heard against planning applications so maybe they hope doing it over the christmas holiday period it will go through without any objections

    • There is no application listed anywhere on planning for this at the moment. If you could supply a number, I’ll post the application up here.

      A planning application is an awful long way from anything happening. They haven’t got the money yet, remember.


      • The Bear says:

        Hi Bob As i understand from talking to planning Dept they issue numbers only when plans are actually subbmitted for approval See miutes of council Cabinet 24 October 2012 Leisure Centre Improvements Agenda item 19 Portfolio A Harris. this will explain that money has already been spent It also explains why they have to apply for the grant before the end of the year ,it takes a bit of time to find the minutes with the figures in .Cllor harris & jamie Morris Executive director signiature s are on the bottom . this report is 6 pages long not the one just outlining rough proposals hope this helps

        • Until the application has a formal number, it hasn’t been submitted. When it appears as an application, I’ll post it here. I can see reference to an outline, but not detail.

          It’s still a long way off. Let’s see what shakes out. The organisations they hope to tap for cash are mostly more broke than they are.


          • The Bear says:

            Hi Bob
            had a letter from the council it appears to be moving forward a planning application has been subbmitted
            Whilst not objecting to the principle the current design leaves a lot to be desired
            application no as requested 12/1422/FL

  9. Pingback: Plans submitted for Oak Park replacement | BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog

  10. The Realist says:

    Lots of interesting comments and much passion.

    A few facts might help to target interest.

    1. This is an ouline planning aplication and is a tactical device. It need never be acted on, but provides the basis for something to be done at some point

    2. A detailed planning application will be required before anything happens. This will involve significant costs in drawing up architectural plans, engineering drawings, traffic analyses, environmental impact studies and local impact assessments

    3. The site already has a General Planning Consent as a leisure venue and no renewal is needed, other than to vary the present designation or detailed design

    4. The idea of a Leisure Trust was considered at least 14 years ago and rejected. Many Councils have since taken up the model, as it enables relief on VAT and National Non Domestic Rates and permits grant applications that are closed to public bodies

    5. Any redevelopment of Oak Park will involve a huge amount of decant, whereby activities and services are shifted to other venues or terminated

    6. Grant giving bodies such as Sport England and the National Lottery are strapped for cash. In any event, they might provide, in the most favourable of circumstances, around 30% of the capital costs, but will not contribute to revenue

    7. These organisations will do nothing until full specifications for design and operation have been set out and agreed by them, again at serious cost and at the Councils risk. Given that the Council is officially ‘skint’ and closing key services, one wonders as to just where this expenditure might come from

    8. The private sector remains an option. However, a private sector development will only work if, as I have stated elsewhere, there is a concomitant pay-off. This usually involves an additional, more commercially attractive development and/or a huge increase in prices for users and the Council

    If what I have set out is even halfway accurate, the proposal is dead in the water

    The truth is that this is either a political scam or there is a deal being cooked somewhere in the background that we are not being told about.

    The Realist

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