Liverpool Council “can’t afford” to invest in all its leisure centres and must get its “house in order” a senior member has warned.
More than £2m is needed to be saved from the local authority’s leisure budget across the next three years and with a pair of the city’s Lifestyle sites falling into worse condition by the day, officials have warned “challenging decisions” lay ahead to maintain a provision for the public. The leisure service is a non-statutory obligation which operates eight indoor facilities across Liverpool.
Cllr Harry Doyle told a culture and visitor economy committee that while he did not want buildings to close, a new approach needed to be found.
A review of the city’s leisure sites was approved back in October 2020 in a bid to establish how financial pressures could be eased. A number of locations are in a poor condition and said to be “reaching the end of their operational life.”
This includes Everton Park – which dates back to its roots as a Victorian wash house in 1884 – and Park Road in Toxteth. As a result, the council is considering relinquishing responsibility for the locations through a community asset transfer.
In March, Liverpool Council agreed to implement a budget saving for leisure centres of £250,000 this year and a further £1.8m up to 2026. It is projected the service has an overspend of £3.4m per year.
It is expected that any transfer away from the public sector would not lead to job losses from the leisure centres impacted.
Cllr Doyle told the committee how the two sites had initially been considered first for closure, then transfer back in 2015/16. He said: “It’s important we’re getting our house in order in the leisure service.
“We’re looking to explore different operating models.”
He added how the authority could no longer afford not to act and said: “If we continue to sit on our hands and do nothing, the buildings will close themselves.
“Even our most successful sites need significant investment.”
Angie Redhead, head of assets at Liverpool Council, said further “challenging decisions” would be required to ensure the service was able to operate within budget and these would be made tougher should an asset transfer process not be completed. Cllr Doyle said how in a bid to try and increase footfall to the two sites, a £10 membership fee was trialled, which had “some success” but “didn’t generate the income needed to finance those centres.”
He added: “We can’t invest in all of them (leisure centres), this is not an easy decision.”