'Still a bit of a worry' over KLV future as council agrees to create business case
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A council has agreed to create a business case for KLV after parts of the site were reprieved last month – but a campaigner says there is still a ‘bit of a worry’ over its future.
The Lighthouse Theatre, Balance Health Club and Arena Sports were all saved from closure after an eleventh-hour deal was struck days before they were due to shut, with leaseholders Phoenix Leisure Management set to take over the day-to-day running from current contractors Compass next month.
Today (Thursday) North Northamptonshire Council’s (NNC) ruling executive committee agreed that they would look into the implications of stepping in if needed, as well as exploring other options for the future operation and management of the site.
But councillors at the meeting, which took place at the Corby Cube, were told that Phoenix could still choose to close the centre if it is unviable.
Speaking after the meeting Anita Hallett, from the KLV Support Group, said she was looking forward to seeing the business case. But she said there are still points of concern – notably that Phoenix could still choose to close the site.
She said: “It’s still a bit of a worry for staff, for job security and for people’s long-term physical and emotional wellbeing.
"Kettering really needs KLV.”
The meeting heard that, as part of the agreement to keep KLV open, NNC agreed to a two-year temporary amendment of the obligation on Phoenix to use their ‘best endeavours’ to stay open. Instead they will have to use ‘reasonable endeavours’ to keep the sporting facilities open. Councillors were told that, in practice, this means Phoenix will need to take all reasonable steps available to it to keep the sporting facilities open but would not be expected to sacrifice its commercial interests in doing so. The meeting heard that this is a standard that is agreed in most commercial leases in respect of the obligations on tenants, and is a typical expectation of a court.
But despite this Phoenix could choose to close the centre if it is unviable – and the meeting heard that there is no mention of a notice period – which would leave a situation where the council would need to consider what if any available legal options it had to enforce the obligation.
Cllr Anne Lee (Lab) asked what contract management NNC would put in place and said the lack a notice period means Phoenix could close sports facilities from one day to another.
She said: "With the revised terms NNC is making it easier, not harder, for Phoenix to pull out.”
She questioned what would happen after the two-year period came to an end.
Cllr Matt Binley (Con), the council’s executive member for highways, travel and assets, said: "It’s that business case which will allow us to make a well-informed decision after that two years.”
NNC resisted calls to step in and keep KLV open before the agreement between Compass and Phoenix was made. The council said they would look at creating a business and legal case which considered the viability of stepping in.
The case will take about three months to develop and review and will cover a number of areas. They will include:
• The current use of the site and draft profit and loss operating figures.
• Opportunities for expanding/changing the leisure offer of the site, including wider strategic leisure and culture/tourism needs and ambitions.
• The different operating models available, including in-house delivery, procuring alterative leisure providers and community led models, and their relative merits.
• Opportunities to link the facility with the wider public services need.
• Any other projected associated costs to the council
The consultant costs of £8,000 to create the case will be met from the council’s budget.
Cllr John McGhee (Lab) said he hoped KLV users would get the opportunity to have an input into the business plan.
Cllr Anup Pandey (Con) addressed councillors and claimed opposition parties wanted to use the KLV issue to “revive their political agendas but they failed”.
And council leader Cllr Jason Smithers (Con) ended the meeting with a rant about Cllr Jim Hakewill because of the way he voted at a fiery council meeting in June.
He said: "I think he really needs to take a good look at himself.”
Speaking after the meeting Cllr Lee said there needs to be a plan in place to manage Phoenix’s contract and monitor whether objectives are being fulfilled.
She said: “There’s still questions to be answered.”
Cllr Helen Harrison (Con) said: “We have to go through a process. That’s what a responsible council does – we cannot go rushing in.”
And Cllr Hakewill (Ind) said: “It’s great that the council has moved from a point of saying pretty much ‘nothing to do with us’ to recognising that it is everything to do with us.
"I am looking forward to engaging with the consultants to look at how we provide leisure and other services across the whole of north Northamptonshire fairly and fairly funded.”
The Kettering Conference Centre part of the Thurston Drive site will remain closed.