Dorset Council proposes to withdraw management from Queen Elizabeth Leisure Centre

Dorset Council is proposing to withdraw its management from the Queen Elizabeth Leisure Centre (QELC), Wimborne in 2024, but has pledged to work with its owners Queen Elizabeth School (QES) to find a sustainable way of keeping their facilities available to those who need them.

This will involve helping the school find alternative funding opportunities, making the current facilities more widely available and providing support and guidance for any users who may need to make alternative arrangements for their activities if necessary.

The Council is also proposing that one-off funding (up to £150,000) is made available as a contribution towards the replacement of the all-weather pitch at the site.

Dorset Council provides management for QELC, but it does not own the facility. This has raised the question as to whether this provides value for money, as the Council manage and subsidise its community use at the cost of over half a million pounds each year. This means the funding of QELC is far higher than any of the eight leisure facilities the Council owns, which share what’s left of the £1.7m per year leisure centres budget.

Dorset Council launched a consultation on future management arrangements at QELC last year to fully understand the future impact on users, clubs, and staff should they decide to no longer manage QELC, and the school is unable to continue running the facility in its current form.

Overall, 1,799 responses were received. As expected, there was overwhelming support to keep the current arrangements which would result in no impact to residents, QES and those that use QELC.

83% of respondents said they currently travel to QELC by car, which is of note given there is a good level of alternative leisure provision in the local area. 51.1% indicated that they use or have used other local sports facilities, of which there are eight other public leisure centres within 20 minutes’ drive.

85.4% of disabled users who visit the centre use the pool. QES have raised concerns around being able to maintain the swimming pool at QELC, but it’s been noted that Wimborne Multi Academy Trust already operate a pool at St Michaels Middle School in Colehill without any additional funding, and so there may be an opportunity for QES to do the same.

Other respondents commented that the potential closure is inconsistent with the Council’s commitment to health and wellbeing. However, the Council operates three other leisure facilities in the East Dorset area, as well as two country parks, so it is felt that there is clear evidence that Dorset Council is supporting the community to be physically active. Many other areas of Dorset are less fortunate and don’t have access to the same level of leisure facilities.

The report detailing the proposed next steps for the QELC will go to Dorset Council’s Place and Resources Overview Committee on Thursday 10 February for discussion. The recommendations will then be considered and decided upon at Cabinet on Tuesday 1 March. If agreed, Dorset Council will withdraw from the dual use management agreement at QELC on 31 March 2024.

Cllr Laura Miller, Dorset Council’s Portfolio Holder for Customer and Community Services, said:

“The consultation has shown the potential impact of Dorset Council withdrawing their management from Queen Elizabeth Leisure Centre. If the recommendations are agreed, we have an interim period to work with the school and try to find different ways to provide as many services as possible for community and school use.

I respect the strength of feeling from the local community, but Dorset Council simply cannot justify spending so much public money managing a centre that we do not own, in an area that has so much comparable leisure provision close by.

Making these recommendations has been difficult, but the school has a considerable amount of time to explore options for QELC’s future and I remain hopeful we can help them find a solution to their funding concerns.

Ultimately, the future of QELC rests with the school but we will do all we can to support them in the meantime, including helping get the all-weather pitch updated and looking at ways of making the facilities more accessible to the general public.”

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