Council told to ‘stop dithering’ over leisure pool and ice rink plans

Perth and Kinross Council officers have recommended to delay the PH20 plans until next February/March.

Council told to ‘stop dithering’ over leisure pool and ice rink plans iStock

A councillor has called on Perth and Kinross Council to ‘stop dithering’ over plans for a replacement leisure pool and ice rink in Perth.

Council officers this week recommended councillors delay PH20 plans until February/March and prioritise more “immediate pressures” in an update to PKC’s capital budget.

But at Wednesday’s meeting of the full council, officers also warned of significant cost implications in delaying this project further.

The cost of delaying the project – at its estimated cost of £70m – by six months was calculated to be around £3.75m.

Councillors were told of cost implications of running the more inefficient Perth Leisure Pool and Dewars Centre for longer and of 10% annual construction inflation costs.

This was in response to questions from SNP Perth City Centre councillor Eric Drysdale, who asked if delays would increase the cost of the PH20 project.

Stephen Crawford, PKC’s head of property, confirmed there would be a cost increase. 

Head of culture and communities, Fiona Robertson, confirmed there were also costs involved with the status quo in terms of the “do nothing option”.

She said: “Any planned or unplanned maintenance to the current buildings will also be subject to construction inflation plus there will be increased inefficiencies just because of the age of the buildings.

“I think a very large percentage of the council’s carbon emissions come from Perth Leisure Pool and Dewars Centre.”

Mr Crawford confirmed this and said the annual utility bill for both facilities was around £500,000.

This surprise revelation came after a report by different PKC officers recommended councillors delay the PH20, Perth High School and Blairgowrie Recreation Centre projects until councillors set next year’s capital budget in February/March 2022.

The capital budget report by PKC’s chief accountant and approved by PKC’s head of finance and chief operating officer recommended prioritising three immediate capital pressures.

These were an additional £3.5m for the North Muirton/Balhousie primary school building project, £4.2m for Invergowrie pupils to continue being taught at Harris Academy, and a £15.9m investment in information technology/digital capacity.

Back in September 2020 councillors asked officers to identify possible funding solutions for PH20.

The capital budget report said “considerable work” had been undertaken but added: “Given the complexity of the project and the proposal to build to low carbon standards, exact, detailed costings for the PH20 project are not yet available.

“However, for financial modelling purposes the figure of £70m has been
used.”

The report described strategic financial pressures facing the council over the medium term as “challenging.”

Perth City South SNP councillor Sheila McCole said: “Four and half years on since I was elected – or probably longer – this has been on the table and yet it’s not moved one single bit forward in terms of practical programme management or delivery.

“It seems like this paper is not suggesting it moves any further forward from where it is right now – which is not even at the drawing board.”

Perth City South Lib Dem councillor Liz Barrett asked for confirmation if they were postponing capital projects such as PH20 and the additional funding needed for Blairgowrie Recreation Centre and Perth High School until February/March 2021 when they set next year’s budget and had more information.

Head of finance Stewart MacKenzie confirmed that was the intention of the recommendation.

Perth City North SNP councillor John Rebbeck said: “Is it not just time we committed to this today and stopped dithering?

“Let’s just put our money where our mouths are – now, today.”

Putting forward his capital budget proposal, Conservative leader Murray Lyle said his administration remained committed to replacing Perth Leisure Pool and Dewars, saying “both were coming to the end of their useful lives”.

He also hinted at the prospect of a public private partnership to get the project off the ground.

Cllr Lyle said: “While we are confident that due diligence has been undertaken, we want to ensure that all options in terms of other funding possibilities are exhausted, specifically including the possibilities of joint ventures.

“And so, we will be asking officers to use the £267,000 remaining balance of the £500,000 revenue funding previously allocated by this administration (which is currently held in reserves), to accelerate exploration of these alternative opportunities and to bring back an outline business case at the earliest opportunity.”

He has asked for this to be brought before the next meeting of PKC’s strategic policy and resources committee on Wednesday, November 24.

This was put before councillors as part of a wider Conservative budget motion which included a financial commitment to Perth High School and Blairgowrie Recreation Centre. The SNP group put forward an amendment which included a full commitment to the PH20 project.

The Conservative budget motion was voted through with 18 votes, 14 for the SNP amendment and six abstentions by Liberal Democrat and independent councillors.

After the meeting, cllr Lyle said: “We are absolutely committed to PH20 and will include it in our formal budget at the end of February or beginning of March next year.

“Sport and exercise are vital in improving physical and mental wellbeing, so it is critical we get PH20 right.

“On Wednesday, councillors discussed an update to the capital budget. As this was an interim budget we dealt with immediate pressures, like Harris Academy and the need for investment in IT equipment, but it was not appropriate to deal with such a big-ticket item as PH20.

“We are committed to finding a solution to the finance and will include PH20 in our revenue and capital budget next year.”

By local democracy reporter Kathryn Anderson

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