How do we secure the future of public sport and leisure services?

Can we make use of the emerging local plan to help with this? For example not building all over every spare green space there is?

***Not another report!***

#SorryNotSorry

You can read the full report here.

The headlines make for depressing reading in terms of both the impact of Covid (£600million of revenue lost to the sector), as well as the long term impact of successive generations of cuts to local government – both in the 1980s and also in the present era post-2010.

Think about that:

“Our research has found that nearly two-thirds of the local council leisure estate is ageing and past its replacement date”

Securing the future of public sport and leisure services – APSE Sept 2021

One of the reasons why this is such a sobering statistic for me is because the secondary school I went to effectively no longer exists in its former built form. It was constructed in the late 1950s, and by the 1980s the buildings were more than showing their age. Even under John Major’s austerity things got so bad that the county council had to find the money from somewhere to demolish 90% of the buildings that were there and start anew. None of the buildings from the time the original schools were built now survive.

Anecdotally that reveals much about the building standards of the time – corners inevitably cut in the rush to get as much built as quickly as possible in the face of both war damage and also the lack of work done in the interwar era due to austerity in the early 1920s & early 1930s.

This means that if you and your community groups are using buildings built in the immediate post-war era, it’s worth asking your local councillors about the structural integrity of the buildings concerned. Furthermore it might be worth asking about what the lifespan of the buildings & facilities were designed for as far as the architects were concerned, and what the long term plans are for when that lifespan expires.

This in part explains why this is a big issue for me

Of course I have my wish-list.* I won’t get it in my lifetime, but it’s there and it concentrates a mind or three.

(Civic wishlist includes the large concert hall, the revamped guildhall, the rebuilt castle & courthouse to house an expanded Museum of Cambridge, and the Cambridge Connect Light Rail).

If we look at some of the most prominent indoor public spaces in Cambridge, we find the largest one was built in 1875 (the Cambridge Corn Exchange), and the next largest one – Great St Mary’s, dates back to 1478 with its familiar tower being completed in 1606. After that, the Large Assembly Hall at the Guildhall – built in 1862 after the original grand plans were downgraded, is probably third.

Can we make use of the emerging local plan to help with this? For example not building all over every spare green space there is?

***Not another report!***

#SorryNotSorry

You can read the full report here.

The headlines make for depressing reading in terms of both the impact of Covid (£600million of revenue lost to the sector), as well as the long term impact of successive generations of cuts to local government – both in the 1980s and also in the present era post-2010.

Think about that:

“Our research has found that nearly two-thirds of the local council leisure estate is ageing and past its replacement date”

Securing the future of public sport and leisure services – APSE Sept 2021

One of the reasons why this is such a sobering statistic for me is because the secondary school I went to effectively no longer exists in its former built form. It was constructed in the late 1950s, and by the 1980s the buildings were more than showing their age. Even under John Major’s austerity things got so bad that the county council had to find the money from somewhere to demolish 90% of the buildings that were there and start anew. None of the buildings from the time the original schools were built now survive.

Anecdotally that reveals much about the building standards of the time – corners inevitably cut in the rush to get as much built as quickly as possible in the face of both war damage and also the lack of work done in the interwar era due to austerity in the early 1920s & early 1930s.

This means that if you and your community groups are using buildings built in the immediate post-war era, it’s worth asking your local councillors about the structural integrity of the buildings concerned. Furthermore it might be worth asking about what the lifespan of the buildings & facilities were designed for as far as the architects were concerned, and what the long term plans are for when that lifespan expires.

This in part explains why this is a big issue for me

Of course I have my wish-list.* I won’t get it in my lifetime, but it’s there and it concentrates a mind or three.

(Civic wishlist includes the large concert hall, the revamped guildhall, the rebuilt castle & courthouse to house an expanded Museum of Cambridge, and the Cambridge Connect Light Rail).

If we look at some of the most prominent indoor public spaces in Cambridge, we find the largest one was built in 1875 (the Cambridge Corn Exchange), and the next largest one – Great St Mary’s, dates back to 1478 with its familiar tower being completed in 1606. After that, the Large Assembly Hall at the Guildhall – built in 1862 after the original grand plans were downgraded, is probably third.

The Builder Magazine 1860 with Peck & Stephens’ Proposal for Charles Henry Cooper, Town Clerk and possibly the Father of Modern Cambridge

He wanted this for our guildhall, but tight-fisted councillors only allowed him the hall at the back. I think our new concert hall should take inspiration from this design – in particular the twin towers, when it comes to a new design and civic landmark for our city. I bought an original contemporary copy of this etching from its date of publication and printed it out on high quality A2 paper and it looks just wonderful. Shame about the acoustics *inside* the hall because as with many Victorian halls, they are awful.

“What does the APSE Report say?”

Lots of things, but the ones that grabbed me are what their survey picked out:

  • Working to integrate more closely with health systems, including the new Integrated Care Systems and public health teams, delivering increased social prescribing opportunities, and GP referral programmes, building on existing work and wider community development programmes.
  • Ensuring that new contracts build in additional social value to communities, whether through apprenticeships, outreach and activities targeted at less active groups, or purchasing from local businesses.
  • Strategically planning sports and leisure services including facilities of the future, including colocation with other services and their role in regeneration of high streets and neighbourhoods.
“How could this apply to Greater Cambridge?”

Let’s take these in reverse order, because if you were delivering all of these, that is where you’d start if looking at new facilities for the future. For us that means looking at the emerging local plan.

Strategic planning

The last part of my 2065 blogpost demonstrates how this could happen. I combine both a positive vision for, and risks of stuff going badly wrong into an approach for the three proposed new towns. The vision includes providing something that residents can take local pride in beyond a civic hall, and features something that the local area – including the nearest city (Cambridge) *does not have*. Therefore, combined with sustainable transport and active travel infrastructure, you create a sustainable income stream for the town that comes from outside. I picked three out of the air:

  • Waterbeach Town – Cambridge Sport Lakes
  • Northstowe – An indoor rollerrink (for the Rollerbillies) and large skatepark. (Build it as close to the guided busway and cycleway as possible)
  • Cambourne – A very large adventure playground on a scale not seen within a 40 mile radius.

…but it could be anything that the residents could make work. For example a dry ski slop. (Nearest one, Harlow). Or a working urban sustainable zero carbon farm. Mindful too that we do not have a municipal athletics track despite calls for one in the post-war decades. And we don’t have the massive indoor leisure centre or spa centre on the scale found on the Continent. Personally I think a spa with water heated by deep geothermal boreholes would be incredibly popular. Having seen how it works at Oberlaa on the edge of Vienna in the 2000s, it is something that could potentially be built next to the Cambridge Sport Lakes (and thus providing potentially a sustainable energy source for it) as well as providing an incentive for upgrading the railway line (four-tracking it) and/or an incentive for a Cambridge Connect Light Rail Line up to Ely and beyond.

Below – recall my very futuristic beyond-my-lifetime vision for such a light rail link/circle line envisaged building a new line for Cambridge-Ely-Chatteris-Ramsey-Alconbury-Huntington – much of the land being mainly flat, low-lying agricultural land (so would require building up embankments to reduce the flooding risk) and linking it back to the guided busway line that would be converted.

Above: “Demonstrate that you don’t get out much without saying you don’t get out much”

There is also the opportunity created by the Cambridge Airport Site which I have repeatedly flagged as a potential site for a new purpose-built Lifelong Learning College (that would need ministerial funding and approval – unless the Minister tables new legislation for Parliament to approve to change this). Unlike the pioneering CityLit in Central London, this new plot of land could have both playing fields and spill out onto an urban country park, contributing towards the health and wellbeing of learners as well as local residents.

New contracts adding social value

With large public procurement exercises this has traditionally been through clauses requiring contractors to take on local apprentices / provide apprenticeships. The challenge is how to go beyond that. It’s not something that needs to be overly prescriptive. Rather than ticking a box you want whatever it is to be outcome-based. For example providing an apprenticeship is one thing, ensuring that said apprentices complete their apprenticeships successfully is another. So what incentives can you provide in the procurement process that way?

Working to integrate more closely with health systems

Almost a follow-on from the localism agenda that had limited success, amongst other things this is part the problem with an over-centralised state with lines of reporting that head towards London rather than with local communities. Part of it his historical – it stems back to the creation of the NHS. There was huge political debate in the 1940s about how to provide universal healthcare free at the point of use. (The history of healthcare provision is an under-explored part of social history, and social history is the under-funded sibling of military history – have a look at the bookshelves next time you are in a mainstream bookshop & compare numbers of titles).

That does not mean Bevan and co got it wrong. Given the scale of the task they faced (And the vested interests against them – not least from some of the medical profession and Conservative-led local councils), you can understand why they went for a centralised model, mindful that many towns and cities had to build new hospitals from scratch.

Fast forward three-quarters of a century and we are dealing with new challenges that call for more nuanced and nimble approaches. Such approaches are much harder for Whitehall to command and control – far better to have a more local approach that can adapt to the circumstances of their area and demographics. Some neighbourhoods have younger populations with a higher turnover, while others have older populations that are much more stable. Each requires a different approach. For example the integration of health services with schools, to the integration of health services with day care centres.

Furthermore as ITV News has reported, the housing crisis has knock on impacts on health and education outcomes. A house riddled with damp and mould is going to damage an occupant’s breathing/respiratory health. Children thrown into cramped and overcrowded accommodation are hardly going to flourish in a former tower block converted under the Conservatives’ controversial Permitted Development regulations. Sometimes social problems are beyond the remit of both providers of sports & leisure, and providers of healthcare.

The vision I don’t buy is the one submitted by CEG to the previous (and IIRC the current) emerging local plan – one that has rows of medium-density homes with ‘pocket parks’ serving them.

Even though an adjacent field might be left undeveloped, several of the others remain looking vulnerable to future rounds of expansion, giving little indication that such developments are integrated into the city or are sustainable as standalone ’15minute’ communities that have everything they need. As one industry professional mentioned to me many years ago, “the development industry only build houses; they don’t build communities.” One of the mistakes of handing over masterplanning to the private sector: There’s no financial incentive for them to build communities.” I read about one such example today:

Above – when property is designed for investors and not long term inhabitants. People to you and me.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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