The next step in delivering a new leisure centre, in Bury St Edmunds, as well as a home to other public services, was discussed by West Suffolk Council cabinet this week.
Councillors confirmed an unchanged final budget for the Western Way scheme after concluding it is capable of meeting necessary tests before the final stage of tendering for the main construction contract goes ahead later this summer.
The scheme will replace the current, nearly 50-year-old leisure centre, in the town, as part of phase one of the Western Way project.
This will be part of a new community hub which will build on the success of others in West Suffolk, such as the award-winning Mildenhall Hub. It will include in its first phase a small health and wellbeing centre, a pre-school and the West Suffolk branch of the Suffolk Archive.
In December 2022, the council agreed a reduced budget for the Western Way project to reflect a new phased approach. Alongside the other public services, the first phase will see a state-of-the-art fun pool and soft-play alongside an eight-lane main pool, a large learner pool and sports hall, studios and a new gym delivered.
In Mildenhall, where similar facilities have been co-located, membership of the leisure centre has doubled and work with the NHS has reduced trips to the hospital for outpatient appointments.
The report received by cabinet confirms that the project is capable of meeting the first of two stages of tests before any main contract is signed.
The latest available benchmark information shows that the agreed budget of £61 million for the total phase one scheme is realistic and would represent good value for money given the scale and type of facilities, including large amounts of renewable energy.
Staying within this budget will mean that the scheme does not add any additional financial pressure for local taxpayers over the next 40 years as the net borrowing cost to the council can be met from existing budgets or new income, after taking into account third party contributions.
The latest cost plans are already within three per cent of the target figure with more savings expected.
The report also set out an action plan, agreed with the preferred contractor, Morgan Sindall, to keep the cost of the project within the budget. However, this can only be confirmed by carrying out the final tendering of the contract over this summer which is also important to maintain pace on the project and reduce the impact of inflation.
Additionally, Suffolk County Council has now formally agreed to relocate its archive branch in Bury St Edmunds to Western Way and will decide later in March if they will also take the lead in delivering a much-needed new pre-school on the site too.
A further budget of £8.25 million was also agreed in December 2022 for works to the remaining half of the Western Way site pending phase two of the project. These will include essential repairs so it can continue to be used alongside phase one but also adding large numbers of solar panels on the rest of the roof.
Jo Rayner, portfolio holder for Leisure, Culture and Community Hubs at West Suffolk Council, said: “The report confirms that going ahead with the Western Way project is good value for money and remains the right thing to do for taxpayers and everyone who uses these facilities.
“The current financial climate is challenging. However, with the right measures in place and a commitment from all the partners working on the project, including our preferred contractor, Morgan Sindall, we are as confident as we could be at this still early stage of the project that it can be delivered within budget. By adopting the phased approach, the council can deliver much needed new leisure facilities in West Suffolk, which will significantly benefit residents’ and visitors’ physical and mental wellbeing.”