Rising energy costs challenge sustainability of city’s leisure centres 

The council’s leisure centres operator, Freedom Leisure, is facing further pressure in an already difficult economic climate due to spiralling energy costs.  

The not-for-profit trust that runs seven of the city’s leisure facilities is asking the council for a range of practical support to allow it to continue offering services that support the health and well-being of local communities.  

The escalating cost of utilities will lead to a rise in costs estimated at more than £1 million a year across all Freedom Leisure sites, despite the recent support package proposed by central government to cap energy prices 

The Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee (TECC) will be asked to consider a range of immediate cost-reducing measures, as well as further potential measures to be reviewed and implemented if required, depending on the developing financial situation.  

Leisure centres affected

The seven leisure centres affected are:

  • Prince Regent Swimming Complex
  • Stanley Deason Leisure Centre
  • Withdean Sports Complex
  • St Luke’s Swimming Pool
  • Moulsecoomb Community Leisure Centre
  • King Alfred Leisure Centre
  • Portslade Sports Centre. 

Steps already taken to reduce energy consumption across all centres include a reduction in opening hours (mainly in the evenings at weekends when usage is lower), changes to operating temperatures for boilers, hot water systems and air conditioning, and a review of pool filter backwash programmes.  

Measures proposed

Immediate further measures proposed include: 

  • A change to Christmas opening times
  • Waiving the management fee owed to the Council for 22/23
  • In 23/24, introduce a payment holiday for the solar electricity generated by the recently installed Photo Voltaic (PV) panels at Withdean and Stanley Deason
  • Closing saunas at Withdean
  • Not appointing to vacant posts
  • Reviewing existing staffing structures
  • Keeping heating systems off for as long as possible
  • Increasing inflation-linked charges early (from January 2023 instead of April 2023). 

Longer term proposals

Longer term measures proposed are:

  • Introducing a soft play facility at Withdean Sports Complex, (as recommended in the Sports Facilities Investment Plan), to increase the family offer and generate additional income
  • Investigate and consider the introduction of automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) and car parking charges at Withdean Sports Complex for non - site (leisure centre and pub) customers
  • Waive the 50% income share receipts expected to be paid to the council from future developments on the site – such as padel, 3G and soft play
  • A payment holiday on the electrical energy created by any new solar/PV systems. 

Councillor Martin Osborne said: “The sustainability of public sport and leisure facilities is vital to the health and wellbeing of our residents and quite simply, Freedom Leisure needs support to make changes that safeguard the services they provide.”  

“The cost-of-living crisis is a national issue and rising energy prices are affecting leisure centres up and down the country.   

“The COVID pandemic has already had a devastating impact on public sport and leisure services and the economic, health and social value they generate.  

“Action must be taken now. To do nothing could result in a much greater reduction of leisure services in the long term."