West Suffolk councillors are to be asked to reaffirm their commitment to moving forward with the Western Way Development scheme in a phased approach, with the first phase being the much-needed re-building of the leisure centre in Bury St Edmunds.
Should councillors and the local planning authority agree this updated staged approach, this will secure the community hub element in an immediate phase one, which would include the new leisure facilities.
This would replace the current leisure centre, which is in need of renewal, whilst allowing the old one to stay open during the construction of the new state of the art facility. This is part of a multi-million investment by West Suffolk Council in leisure facilities across the district to help improve the health and wellbeing of communities.
Whilst the scheme has always been designed to be delivered in a phased way, councillors are being asked to restate their approval for a staged delivery due to new NHS finance rules. These new rules mean that more time is required to sign-off the proposed health facilities which are being planned to go into the new development.
As part of the initial phase, other community facilities can also move ahead, most likely including an initial small health facility, similar to those already successfully integrated with leisure centres in Haverhill, Mildenhall and Brandon and linked to NHS referral programmes. Plans for the new skatepark would also remain in phase one.
With phase one secured, there would then be the scope to add the envisaged full NHS health facility at a later stage of the project. This could be alongside other potential commercial and community uses.
The overall vision for regenerating the site, boosting the local economy, improving the wellbeing of communities and reducing the impact on the environment remains intact, and the existing financial tests – meaning that the scheme, at worst, breaks-even for taxpayers over its whole lifetime – are unaffected.
John Griffiths, the leader of West Suffolk Council, said: “We always knew that a project of this scale and complexity would require some degree of flexibility to deliver it, which is why we have worked with our contractors to design a phased approach to this scheme. The flexibility of this project means, that with the approval of our councillors, we should be able to push ahead with providing improved replacement leisure facilities and the other benefits for the community, including extensive renewable energy, whilst allowing our NHS partners the time to undertake their due diligence and follow required financial processes.
“The cabinet and councillors will meet in November to discuss this further and hopefully agree to the proposed phasing.”
Craig Black, chief executive of West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, added: “We are already partners in several other multi-agency hubs across West Suffolk, so have seen first-hand the benefits of shared community facilities. Bringing together modern health and leisure facilities, alongside other public services, makes a real difference to the public – improving access and reducing health inequalities.
“West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust continues to work closely with West Suffolk Council on this shared vision for multiple agencies to be located on the same site for the benefit of the West Suffolk community.
“Given our new financial rules, a phased approach to the scheme would be very welcome. It would enable us to follow our required financial processes and procedures and go into the scheme at a later time.”