Disappointment and anger has greeted the news that Cornwall Council made no bids for government funding from a £635m pot for assisting public bodies in reducing their carbon footprint. The news killed the growing expectation among St Ives Leisure Centre members that solar panels would be installed on its roof.
They say these could have had the potential to drastically cut the energy bills for the centre which are now one of the biggest threats to its future. This is the latest blow for Cornwall’s depleted leisure centres.
A recent Freedom of Information Act (FOI) request revealed that no bids to that fund had been made by Cornwall Council.
“This really does show a terrible lack of foresight,” said leisure centre member David Fox. “On page 2 of the Cornwall Council Business Plan it says that they aim to create a carbon neutral Cornwall. I am utterly flummoxed why it has not applied when this is one of its biggest energy using buildings.”
In the last few years, major public funding has been available for local authorities to install new heating systems in public buildings to reduce their carbon footprint. The government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme has been taking place in several phases and one of the most recent, Phase 3a, has distributed over £600m in grants. For example, funding of £5,174,666 has been provided to Durham County Council to install air source heat pumps in its leisure centres. Nearer home, Mid Devon District Council was awarded £2,835,102 for two projects to replace gas boilers with air source heat pumps at two leisure centres.
Concerned leisure centre members have sent an open letter to St Ives’ two representatives on Cornwall Council asking them why the council made no application for funding when so many other local authorities have been successful in getting grants. “If the council had made an application and had it turned down it would be more understandable,” added Mr Fox, “but to have made no application at all is really quite unforgivable.”
Since the decision to contract out the running of the leisure centres to Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) in November 2016, the provision of such services has been very low on the list of priorities of Cornwall Council, the leisure centre members believe.
“The council has a definite aim of creating a healthier population in the county but seems to have completely washed its hands of actually doing anything to achieve this,” said personal trainer James Clarke. “That has to change once the council’s leisure strategy is published.”
The St Ives group added: “We understand at this stage discussions between Cornwall Council and GLL are ongoing over applying for this funding but it appears time and opportunity has been lost to support reducing energy costs, carbon and ultimately the future of our leisure centre. This seems all the more pertinent when you look at the many examples of other local authorities who have contracted out their leisure facilities but still applied, successfully, for funding to renew the heating systems for their swimming pools and sports and leisure centres.”
It appears that currently there are funds available only for Scotland and Wales and that all the funds for England have closed for further applications. “It looks as though Cornwall Council missed a golden opportunity to put its leisure centres on a more sustainable path,” said centre member David Falconer. “Let us make sure that should more funds become available they do not miss it a second time.”
We contacted the two St Ives members of Cornwall Council, Andrew Mitchell and leader of the council Linda Taylor, last week for comment but have yet to get a response. Cornwall Council has also been approached for comment twice since last Friday. We have also contacted GLL for a statement.
In 2021, it was announced that Ships and Castles in Falmouth, leisure centres in Wadebridge, Launceston and Saltash and the hydrotherapy pool in St Austell were all under threat after GLL said it could no longer keep them open. All the facilities were owned by Cornwall Council and operated by GLL under a contract with the council. In stating that it could no longer run the services, GLL was not in breach of its contract which was set up on the basis that it could ask to alter it at any time.
Although some of the centres were saved, or at least given stays of execution while other options were explored, Launceston Leisure Centre closed in January. The council agreed late last year to transfer Ships and Castles to Falmouth Town Council, which hopes to reopen it.