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Cardiff Council to take action to keep leisure centres open amid energy crisis

Eastern Leisure Centre.

Cardiff Council is looking at ways it can help maintain leisure centre services in the city amid rising energy costs.

The social enterprise GLL currently has the contract to run 8 Cardiff leisure centres, which are owned by the council, saving the local authority £3.5m in annual subsidies for the facilities.

But rising energy costs mean the not-for-profit organisation is now facing a significant loss next year on top of two years where business was heavily affected by the pandemic.

Cabinet Member for Culture, Parks and Events, Cllr Jennifer Burke-Davies, said: “The challenges facing GLL in Cardiff are replicated across the UK leisure industry, and we’ve already seen stories in other areas of prices increasing significantly, or services being cut and facilities closing – especially swimming pools which cost so much to heat. Those aren’t roads we want to go down and we’re determined to do what we can to maintain existing services for residents by taking action to relieve the crippling impact of rocketing energy prices and putting in place longer-term measures to ensure the sustainability of the GLL contract.”

While GLL has seen around 90% of income return since the pandemic ended, the rising cost of energy means it is looking at a significant operating deficit in Cardiff for the 2022/23 financial year.

In the light of these challenges a report to Cardiff Council’s Cabinet recommends the approval in principle of:

  • A capped, relief payment to GLL to help offset the rise in energy costs.
  • Working to enable GLL to access energy at the same lower rates as the Council through the Crown Commercial Service.
  • Developing a strategy to replace the energy infrastructure at each site to provide lower-cost, renewable energy.

Given that GLL is delivering a service on behalf of the Council, the Council will explore whether it is possible to connect GLL into the public sector energy consortium which would enable GLL to benefit from lower energy costs secured by the local authority’s bulk-energy buying power.

The Local authority is also keen to look at how it might upgrade the leisure centres so they could draw on renewable energy sources like solar PV, wind, and ground/air source heat pumps. This would require a full review of existing energy infrastructure and needs at all 8 leisure facilities. Modelling would also need to be developed for each centre to understand the impact of renewable technology on operating costs. While there would be significant upfront costs required to implement any new solutions, the council would look to fund any changes via government schemes and grants designed to aid the transition to carbon zero.

Following independent legal advice, the report also outlines a revised approach to proposals for Pentwyn Leisure Centre. Cost pressures being felt across the construction sector have delayed plans to upgrade the facility, but the Council remains committed to the project. The new proposals would see a modernised centre remain within the GLL contract, with GLL running the community facilities and part of the building rented out to Cardiff Rugby to use exclusively. If approved in principle, the new proposals would remain subject to a full business case.