A packed meeting of the West Swindon Forum on 11 September heard councillors suggest that the Link Centre could be knocked down and incorporated into a wider development of the West Swindon District Centre.
Considering the room was very hot and sultry, following another massive downpour similar to the one that cancelled July’s forum meeting when floods knocked out Link Centre’s plant room, those attending remained remarkably cool about the radical idea.
Most had turned up in response to a range of rumours about the future of the building which opened only 21 years ago. Despite published promises that Oasis and Link would be refurbished or replaced, the publicity given to the idea of a new supercentre somewhere in the town – apparently centred around an Olympic quality 50 metre pool – had many people concerned that the council was no longer committed to the facilities at Link Centre.
Coun Gary Perkins said he had heard the rumours as well and agreed that Link Centre was both well used and highly regarded as both a local and regional sports facility. " The council is reviewing its leisure and recreation strategy and we are very keen to find out what the people of Swindon want. We are not going to consider knocking Link Centre down unless it is to be replaced by something better.
"Swindon Council is keen to contribute to the 2012 Olympics and we are under a lot of pressure from the swimming clubs to build a 50 metre pool for the talent in the town and perhaps as a training venue for teams for other countries in the run up."
However Steve Spence from Middleleaze expressed dismay about the secretive consultations on future recreation provision carried out by the council over the summer. "I stumbled across the recreation survey on the council’s website, but don’t recall any publicity for it through other means. It referred to a supercentre but did not ask for views on the future of Oasis or Link Centre. I have grave worries about the council’s intention."
As a point of information Swindon Link publisher Roger Ogle said there had been no media release on the online survey and it had not featured in the council’s newspaper Swindon News. He added that 100 copies of the paper survey had been delivered to Link Centre on 21 August with 29 August as the closing date for responses.
Photo Caption: Thamesdown Borough Council architect Nigel Honor who led the team between 1982 and 1985 to design and build Link Centre. In response Arthur Beltrami from The Prinnells, said, "I think users of Link Centre need to be satisfied that the council is doing the right thing, rather than councillors being satisfied that they’re doing the right thing."
Keen swimmer Bob Cretchley from Grange Park said, "on the face of it a supercentre, whatever that is, sounds good. But over the last 21 years Link Centre has built an excellent reputation for local and regional sports and recreation provision, but it has been let down by a lack of maintenance.
"I’m very concerned that the desire to enhance the prestige and profile of the town will overwhelm the good things we already have."
Council leader Rod Bluh, right, told the meeting that he was astonished by the comments on the consultation exercise. "We are determined to improve our communications, but this will be looked into."
He added that the council is looking forward twenty years when there will be a further 35,000 houses in Swindon. "We have to take a long term view of developments in the town, whether it be sport and leisure, or education and health. We have to get the balance between costs and benefits; we have to get the vision right.
"Swindon is one of the wealthiest towns in Britain but this is not reflected in its facilities. I would ask everybody to have an open mind on what is required for Link Centre and contribute to the next stage of the consultation process."
The results of the summer holiday consultation exercise will be reported to the council’s cabinet in November. Further discussion on options for the future will take place over the winter months.
Leader reviews consultation exercise
Council leader Rod Bluh writes:
Further to Monday night’s meeting, I am writing to once again express my regret about the level of concern felt amongst West Swindon residents about the leisure strategy consultation.
As already discussed, I recognise that there are things that we could have done better but once again I would like to stress that this is not a done deal by any means. Below is a briefing document outlining exactly what the objectives of the various phases of consultation were and then giving detailed information about the coverage in West Swindon specifically.
Leisure Strategy Consultation
Timetable & Objectives of the Consultation
The objective of this first phase of the consultation was to compliment the work completed over the past 6 months with regional and local bodies to identify needs and aspirations regarding the types of sports and activities residents and employees in the borough would like to see in the future. It also broadly touched on where (local, borough-wide) people would like facilities and what would help target groups to access opportunities. The feedback from this consultation will inform the first draft of the Leisure Strategy.
A second phase of consultation to focus on proposals for grouping of different facilities and where they should be situated, will commence following recommendations from Cabinet on the Council’s aspirations for leisure provision as reflected in the Leisure Strategy.
Cabinet confirmation of aspirations / Leisure Strategy 15th November
Evaluation of site options Dates to be confirmed at next Leisure Strategy Group
Second phase of consultation on recommended centre facilities and venues Cabinet
Coverage of the consultation in West Swindon.
Management team updated on strategy and consultation at 2 weekly meetings from 10th May
10 Recreation staff from 8 centres, ranging from managers to activity assistants, included on a workshop group run by RBA Research Public
3m x 1m banner on railings at Barnfield from the last week in June through to mid August advertising the website for consultation questionnaires.
Printed questionnaires were made available at all leisure centres, including 100 at the Link Centre, together with posters directing individuals to the website questionnaire. Further copies were available on request.
Roadshows – posters (hard copy available) were put up in each site in the two weeks prior to the roadshows (Link Centre, Monday, 10th July; Sainsburys Bridgemead, Thursday, 20th July; West Swindon District Centre, Monday, 24th July). Unfortunately the 10th July roadshow was cancelled due to the flooding and the majority of the centre including the ice rink and pool being closed. Attempts were made to rearrange but the ice rink is still closed to date and when a space in the timetable was available the stands had been handed over to the waste consultation.
– The top 15 companies in the town were personally contacted and arrangements were made for their staff to be circulated with emails and handouts pointing them to the questionnaire on the website, in West Swindon this was Cardinal Health, PHH, Npower and Dick Lovett.
– All clubs on the Sport Swindon database were contacted to point them to the website questionnaire including clubs such as Wildcats, Tigersharks, Swindon Dolphins, basketball clubs etc.
– RBA ran a focus group with representatives of clubs drawn from the same database, we are unable to obtain the precise list due to data protection.
New facilities coming to Link Centre
New facilities coming to Link Centre
Swindon Council has agreed to fund two floodlit all weather pitches next to Link Centre, on the green area bordered by Tewkesbury and Whitehill Way.
Planning permission is being sought to build the pitches. An asphalt surface should be ready in January. Next April a state-of-the-art no-burn astroturf surface will be laid.
Inside the centre the cafe is to revamped. Junk food is to be dumped, to be replaced by good quality coffee, salads and wraps. However chips and fizz will be available on hockey game days.
A new sports shop in The Mall, stocking hockey, skating and swimming equipment, should ready by the end of October.