Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Let's hope it's the end of the line for the Hermitage...and a bright, new future for Hermitage+

Let’s talk about Hermitage Leisure Centre.

If you have been there at any point over the past 10 years you would know, how shall I put this kindly, it’s looking ‘tired’.

The squash courts and bar area are drab; the swimming pool reminiscent of post-Glasnot Soviet era; and the spa and changing rooms? One word: blurghhhh!

The leisure centre isn’t exactly falling to bits, at least not to my untrained eye, but at the same time it all seems to be on an irreversible downwards spiral. It’s a building of its time and location, still noticeably a leisure centre, but undeniably one entrenched in the days of Daley Thompson and Seb Coe.

If someone were to offer you, the good people of Coalville and North West Leicestershire, the choice between the Hermo and a brand new, up to date and fit for purpose leisure facility then I’m absolutely certain which option the vast majority of you would take; and it wouldn’t be the existing rotastak hamster cage style one that seemingly grew piecemeal over decades.

That is exactly the choice that North West Leicestershire District Council are mulling over as they consider placing a new leisure centre on the largely disused municipal golf course (or field as most of us would call it) located on the Whitwick side of the Morrisons and McDonalds roundabouts and which lies inbetween the village and Coalville.

On the face of it what a fantastic opportunity for the area: a larger purpose built facility, with a proper sized gym and training pool, and with easy access for all Coalville residents. An option that keeps a council owned leisure centre in Whitwick, and still allows existing users to access the site on foot.

The business model that the council is looking at too is one which will mean taxpayers don’t have to stump up any more tax for a sparkling new building.

Much of the cost will be covered by local authority borrowing, always the cheapest sort, with repayment being guaranteed from outsourcing the day to day management to a private supplier; something that happens all over the country with minimal risk.

The rest would be paid for through the sale of the existing HLC site, which for me at least is part of the attraction of the scheme. Whilst the council haven’t expressed whether they would limit the purposes they would allow the site to be sold for isn’t it true that all of us complain about new housing (and we do need it) spreading into the countryside?

Isn’t there a potentially perfect brownfield site waiting for new, possibly affordable, homes in the centre of our village which will bring customers for local pubs and shoppers for local businesses?

There really is the potential for a win / win situation.

Of course, there are drawbacks.

You could argue ‘well why not just ‘do up’ the current leisure centre?’ You could, but would suppliers be interested in running a tarted up Hermo? Where would the money come from to give it a spruce up? Would footfall increase to make any consequential borrowing affordable?

The answer to all of those questions is that I don’t know; but seriously wouldn’t you prefer a new place rather than one that has had a splash of paint and may otherwise be stuck in permanent decline?

There is though one concern above all in this ambitious plan which will fill the hearts of Whitwick, Thringstone and, yes, Coalville residents with dread.

Will planting a new leisure centre on our green wedge, an area of land which many (including me) have fought for for years open the entire area up to creeping development?

That is the crucial question and one which the council’s own planners have said that they don’t think so; the land is currently designated for leisure usage and a leisure centre is just that. 

I would suggest that isn’t enough of a guarantee. The very best independent legal advice must be taken on the issue and listened to because no one wants to see our precious green spaces be lost forever.

But providing those legal minds are in agreement? Let’s get building as soon as possible, I don’t think I can face Hermo’s dry side changing rooms ever again.

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