RESIDENTS will have access to school swimming pools, gyms and football pitches on a “pay and play” basis under plans to increase the facilities open to the public.
City leaders have launched proposals which would see Edinburgh Leisure (EL), which runs the city’s public sports centres, manage school sports departments outside class hours – potentially generating up to £1 million of income.
It is hoped the organisation’s involvement will lead to rising use of sports areas, in turn increasing cashflow.
And the plan is being viewed as positive, because there had been fears that up to a third of existing leisure venues could close as council bosses prepare to slash the annual grant they pay to the arms-length body.
Schools are likely to raise fees to access the facilities, after external consultants recommended charges be brought in line with those at centres run by EL.
Improved marketing and branding, together with “one-stop shop” online booking facilities, have also been proposed in an attempt to maximise revenue.
The latest data shows the estimated operating cost of providing public access to secondary school sports facilities, was more than £9m in 2013-14, but only around £1.2m of income was generated.
Council bosses said the plan would affect school management from around 6pm onwards, meaning there would be no impact on PE lessons.
It was not clear last night whether income from customers would be shared between the council and EL following transfer of management responsibilities.
A previously published breakdown of fees for public access to schools shows eight secondaries – including Currie, James Gillespie’s and Balerno high schools – allow residents and community groups to use swimming pools and nearly all senior campuses in Edinburgh offer some level of access to sports halls.
City leaders have welcomed the publication of detailed proposals and stressed they were designed to increase the number of gyms, pitches and fitness suites available to the public.
Council leader Andrew Burns said: “The Council is committed to encouraging greater participation in sports and exercise across all age groups in every part of the city.
“The recommendation to transfer the school sport estate to Edinburgh Leisure will effectively increase the overall number of facilities available to the public.
“Edinburgh has a rapidly growing population and we need to do everything we can to ensure sports facilities are available for everyone to use.”
David Milne, EL chairman, said: “We are dedicated to helping make Edinburgh a more active, healthier city to live in by providing a range of opportunities for people of all ages to participate in physical activity.
“Combining the management of school sports facilities with the Edinburgh Leisure estate is an exciting proposition and the Edinburgh Leisure board welcomes the opportunity to explore this with the City of Edinburgh Council.”
Proposals to transfer management of school sports halls, come as city leaders prepare for a £8.4m cut to the service grant they currently pay to EL, with funds set for a £500,000 reduction by 2017-18.
Parents have been concerned that financial pressures could see up to eight of the city’s public leisure centres close their doors.
Emma Wood, 52, has a child at Portobello High School, where teachers and pupils are due to move into a £41m replacement building next year.
Ms Wood said: “Our campaign was about achieving a great new school for pupils and also resources for the community – that’s been the goal all along.
“The key issue is that we need healthier people and healthier communities and if we’re using school facilities, then that’s good news.”
Council opposition leaders said increasing access would be a positive step if it meant reducing costs and boosting income.
Councillor Chas Booth, the Green spokesman for sport, said: “It’s crucial the school facilities are still school facilities and that school groups get priority, that schools see an income benefit and that weekend or evening use still ensures the facilities are in pristine order for school use the next day.”
And Councillor Jason Rust, the Conservatives’ education spokesman, said: “Although this is an after-hours plan, we still need engagement with the schools and detail on how proceeds will be divided up.
“Maintenance and repair would need to be taken into account.”
Pitch sale to reduce Meadowbank costs
By COURTNEY CAMERON
A FIVE a-side football complex in Portobello is set to be sold to help pay for the new Meadowbank Sports Centre, it has emerged.
In a report released by the council yesterday, it was revealed that the estimated cost for the planned new facility has reduced from £43 million as originally expected in February to £42m.
Selling the land which hosts the football centre, situated on Westbank Street in Portobello and currently leased by Powerleague, is tipped to make the council £10m, which would help reduce the shortfall for the Meadowbank project to just under £7m.
Powerleague is keen to quit the site despite holding a lease until 2088, according to the report.
A revamped Meadowbank, which could be open as early as spring 2018 if it is given the green light, would include an outdoor athletics track with seating for 500 spectators, eight badminton courts and a gymnastics hall.
Council chiefs believe the latest financial figures have moved their overhaul plans a step closer.
City leader Councillor Andrew Burns said: “This new figure is really encouraging and gives everyone hope that a new Meadowbank fit for the 21st century can now become a reality.
“Obviously there is still a long way to go with a project of this scale but I want to assure everyone that the council is committed to continue our exciting work on redeveloping Meadowbank.
“We will continue to explore all funding options to find the required £6.8m so the existing facility can be demolished and transformed into a brand new sports complex that would serve the sporting needs of the residents of Edinburgh and the east of Scotland.”