THE NEW leisure centre being built by Bromsgrove District Council to replace the Dolphin Centre will now cost an extra £700,000, taking the total spend for the project to £13.7million.
The announcement was made by the authority last Friday afternoon (May 20) and cabinet members will now be asked on June 1 where they feel the extra expenditure should come from – from reserves or from a 50-year loan from the Public Works Loans Board. The decision by cabinet will then go before full council on June 9.
Just before April, the main contractors encountered some unexpected problems – the first was to do with the ground conditions. Once the former Blackmore House was bulldozed and trees were removed, more work was needed and it was decided the car park needed to be built across two levels.
It was also found the electrical substation supplying the new leisure centre would be inadequate, as would the water supply with Severn Trent water suggesting the mains be upgraded.
All this was exacerbated by the impact of inflation and officers were initially told the leisure centre could potentially be running almost £2million over budget, meaning it would have cost £15.5million.
But after consulting with the second choice contractor, returning preferred one and going through every element of the new centre, officers were able to get the overspend down to £700,000.
Included with the works, utility upgrades and inflation is an £82,000 ‘contingency fund’.
That will be for any future problems but, the council added, it was not anticipating further financial setbacks and the new leisure centre, which will have two swimming pools, dance studios, group cycling studio and a steam room and sauna, should re-open as planned in autumn next year.
With the materials being used – a new steel frame, combined with concrete, compared to the Dolphin Centre’s concrete only structure, the building should last more than 50 years.
Coun Peter Whittaker, the Cabinet Member for Leisure and Cultural Services, praised the officers for getting the costs down to a third of what they were.
“When embarking on a project of this magnitude, such changes to design and costs can be expected and our team will continue to work with the contractors to make sure we deliver what we said we would – if not better.
“Local Government faces some very tough financial challenges and although the costs are higher than anticipated we are confident that the revenue generated from the new centre will be enough to meet the additional borrowing costs.”
But Coun Chris Bloore hit back at the revelation, labelling it ‘extraordinary’.
“Many of us thought we’d seen the worst of this council’s economic incompetence but it just gets worse.
“When only a few years ago we had millions in the bank, the Conservative council’s incompetence when managing the public’s money is now plunging us further into debt by borrowing even more for a downgraded leisure centre without a sports hall.
“Throughout this process we’ve been told there isn’t the funds to build sports hall now we are being told there is money available to cover the backs of their incompetence.
“Last November we called for the leisure centre project to be reviewed because of the clear groundswell of public opinion concerned about the removal of the sports hall.
“With this further worrying news we are calling for an immediate review of the project which has been incompetently managed from the very start.”
Coun Whittaker added: “I know there is a perceived need for a sports hall but the cost of this would be more than double this investment and the reality is, as shown by an independent study, there is an overprovision of sports halls in the district.
“And while we want to provide a leisure centre which will meet everyone’s needs, we have to make compromises and as part of this we are trying to work innovatively and go the extra mile to meet the demands of even more of our residents, who I hope will work with us.”