Chapter 9: Research, Planning, Design and Consultancy Move On

9.1 Processes move on and into the 21st Century

A brief background

Part One (Chapters 1,2 &3) recorded how the planning and development of sports centres first started. Part Two (Chapters 4, 5 & 6) reflected on the influence of early research, planning and design and the rapid development and management of centres during the early decades. This Chapter concludes Part Three (Chapters 7, 8 & 9), which has adopted a more thematic approach to important aspects of centre development. We highlight in this Chapter how the overall approach to research, planning and design evolved further and influenced new centre developments into the 21st century.

Research, planning, design and management are in many ways discrete, but interrelated, functions. They are also technical subjects that strongly interconnect and overlap in their content and application for sport and sports centres. George Torkildsen, in commenting on these themes in the late 1980s, said “The recreation centre movement has given policy-makers and planners greater opportunity to meet community needs.  It has given architects the chance to make new responses to community problems.  It has given managers the opportunity to offer a wide and varied choice of activity and programme. Recreation facilities can be further improved by recognizing the interrelationship between policy, planning, design and management.”  This inter-dependence has strengthened as time has gone on.

9.2 Research moves on from 1992

Research on indoor sports centres up to 1992 has been covered in Chapter 4.2, which includes a link to an extensive paper, ‘Indoor sports centres – research on their use, users and non-users, and its impact on policy, provision and management’. It was written for the project by Mike Fitzjohn and Malcolm Tungatt, both former Sports Council officers, and includes a section on research from 1992-2006. Here we summarise the key points from 1992 to 2006. The authors both retired at around this latter date, and the Project would welcome any further updates from current practitioners.

9.2.1 New factors impinging on research activity

Sound research should underpin planning and decision making, and research itself should reflect any changed circumstances since any previous exercises. From 1992 the context for research into sports centres changed significantly. Four particularly important factors came to bear on sports centre research from 1992 to 2006:

  • The advent of the National Lottery (see Ch 7)

In 1994 the launch of the National Lottery led to an immediate impact on provision through the introduction of the National Lottery Sports Fund (see Chapter 7.3). In addition to a significant contribution to improving the standard of facilities at sports clubs around the country, the substantial sums available through this new funding stream saw the creation of new multi-sports centres, once again led by Local Authorities. The partnership between the Lottery Funding and Local Authorities became the driving force behind this new wave of provision until 2006. It introduced a new working relationship between the Sport England Main Board (the Council Members) and the Regional Sports Boards but sought to introduce a new working relationship between public sector funding and private/commercial finance. These partnerships were seen as fundamental to new ideas for 21st Century sports provision such as Sports Villages.

  • The Facilities Planning Model (see 9.3.4)

In 1996 the Sports Council had embraced the concept of a ‘Facilities Planning Model’ (FPM). The aim was to solve the un-resolved issue of supply and demand.

  • Compulsory Competitive Tendering (see Ch 8)

CCT inevitably had a big influence on centre research priorities and also provided a whole new platform for academic reflection.

  • National Benchmarking Service (see 9.2.3)

In 1999, Sport England introduced a new National Benchmarking Service (NBS) for sports and leisure centres which, over time, would influence the management of multi-sport centres.

A wide range of sports development initiatives came to bear across the sports sector in this period. The impact of these initiatives on sports centres depended very much on local approaches to sports development. In some cases, sports development teams linked up with centres, or were even based there. The majority of community sports development activity was however understandably focused outwith centres. Perhaps the most significant influence on the general sporting agenda through this period was the announcement by the Department for National Heritage in April 1997 that ‘revenue schemes’ would be able to access Lottery Funding.

9.2.2 New research initiatives
  • Impact of Lottery funded projects

Much of Sport England’s research programme post 1994 was designed to assess the impact of the new Lottery funded sports facilities and some of the new indoor sports centres provided by the public sector at that time were included. The commissioned research typically involved detailed design assessments, usage and financial audits and, in some cases, ‘mystery shopper’ visits and user-reported issues. The reports on each facility were detailed and the early research findings were reported extensively at the Sports Council’s Regional Conferences held throughout 1997.

  • Renewed Sport England Research Unit focus on indoor centres

Also, from 1994, alongside Lottery research, the Sports Council/Sport England’s Research Unit developed a renewed focus around indoor sports centres and swimming pools. It decided to tackle the issue of how to get accurate comparable nationwide usage and management data on a longitudinal basis for sports centres and swimming pools. It created a ‘Think Tank’ to lead the work which brought together research representatives from the four UK Sports Councils and some of the leading academic research practitioners. The key was to find a way to provide representative ‘trend’ data, as opposed to the case studies and one-off research surveys of the past. The ‘Think Tank’ concluded that three broad types of information needed to be collected; usage information, user information, and management information.

The ‘impact of management’ was seen as a core issue, as the Sports Councils were concerned that a combination of Compulsory Competitive Tendering and broader changes in the financing of local government services would have a detrimental impact on the use of sports facilities and on the composition of users. The ‘Think Tank’ noted that if long term changes in usage were identified in the proposed new national survey, the hypothesis was that this would be a product of supply side factors.

A research team was commissioned and its final report (‘A National Survey of Swimming Pool and Sports Hall Usage and Management’), published in May 1995, made interesting reading.

The main conclusions were: –

  • The collection of usage and management information would be best carried out by postal survey of facilities
  • The collection of user information would need to be face-to-face interviews, based on the ‘Model Survey Package’ that had then recently been piloted by the Sports Council, but that a market research company should be commissioned to carry out all of the surveys to ensure consistency and accuracy
  • The need to adopt a ‘sample frame’ of facilities, with the data requirements for some disaggregation (e.g. analysis by different activities, or by social class, and so on) suggested a sample of around 200 sports centres and 50 swimming pools.

Perhaps the most interesting discussion in the report relates to this ‘sample frame’ and how to get a representative sample of facilities given the varied types of centre and the differences in management style. The conclusion was that the ‘size’ of the facility for sports centres should be the main delineating factor, based on the number of ‘badminton courts’ in each centre. In this respect the report suggested four ‘categories’ of centre, although the presence in some centres of an ancillary hall was an issue. To address the issues around a sample frame that would give a representative selection of different management styles, it was suggested that an analysis of the various types of CCT contracts should be carried out. The methodology adopted in the Facilities Planning Model was suggested as a solution, with small ancillary halls adding two ‘courts’ and larger halls adding four ‘courts’. The suggested stratification was thus defined as follows:

  • Centres with 1-3 ‘court’ halls, where “the size of the hall limits the types of activity available, greatly reduces the ability to provide for more than one activity at a time and places severe constraints on the ability to cater for performance and excellence”
  • Centres with 4 ‘court’ halls, which “is the standard size hall. Here the assumption is that there will be competition for space between various types of usage”
  • Centres with 5-7 ‘court’ halls, where “the presumption is that there will be moderate and variable competition in such halls (depending on location)”
  • Centres with 8 plus ‘court’ halls, where “there should be least competition for space, with the potential to cater for a wide range of uses and performance and excellence”.

The report did note that the “survey of users will provide important information about the frequency of participation, an important element in the calculation of demand” and that “the programming and usage survey will supply vitally important information [on] the sporting capacities of facilities at peak and off-peak times, good practice and ‘enlightened management’ and levels of throughput in relation to total space [which] will greatly assist in the re-calibration of the supply parameters of the FPM”.

All of which would prove academic, as the proposals for the national survey itself were not eventually taken forward by the Sports Councils; probably because of the cost implications. However, as outlined below, some elements of the proposals, particularly the Model Survey Package, would form the basis of much of the research that was to follow in the late 1990s and early 21st century.

9.2.3 National Benchmarking Service (NBS)

In 1999 Sport England launched the National Benchmarking Service and it marked the beginning of the return of the user surveys and the collection of information from sports facilities on a large scale. The aim of the NBS was, and still is in 2020, “to provide Local Authorities with rigorous and robust information on the performance of their sports and leisure centres compared with that of equivalent family facilities elsewhere in the country”. For each centre, clients of the NBS select an appropriate level of support for their data collection, deliver the required data, and receive a facility-specific report on performance relative to national benchmarks. Sports and Leisure Centres can choose from: a full report – assessing access, utilisation, finance and customer satisfaction; an Efficiency Report – assessing finance and utilisation performance; or an Effectiveness Report, which takes access, utilisation and customer satisfaction into consideration. A one-page Executive Summary also ensures the reports are clear and easy to understand!

The user questionnaire was based on the development of the Model Survey Package, and seeks information from individual users, including ‘satisfaction’ with the services provided. The questionnaire is designed for either self-completion or interviewer administration, but interviewer administration is the recommended option. The survey is conducted over a standard survey period of nine consecutive days, including two weekends, and should be representative of ‘typical’ usage, for example not during school holidays. The aim is to achieve 350 completed survey forms by selecting, at exit points, an appropriate number of respondents aged over 14 who have participated in activities on the day of their visit. The number selected is based on total throughput (e.g. if the throughput was expected to be 1,600, every fourth person would be interviewed to achieve 350 completed responses, allowing for refusals and ineligible people, such as those attending but not participating). Sheffield Hallam University’s Sports Industry Research Centre was selected by Sport England to manage the analysis of the information from each centre and to produce the NBS reports.

The NBS reports are comprehensive as far as the analysis of what is happening at the centres is concerned, but the information provided, significantly, “will inform the sport and leisure centre on what they need to focus on to improve their performance, but not how they achieve this improvement”.

Finally, to summarise the state of the research ‘knowledge’ on Sports and Leisure Centres by the end of 2006, a progress report on the NBS published by the Sports Industry Research Centre noted that they had at their disposal over 35,000 completed survey forms from the interviewing process, representing survey returns from over 100 sports centres. Not quite delivering the vision for the National Longitudinal Survey, but a significant contribution, nonetheless (see NBS examples).

9.2.4 ‘Active People’ arrives

A major breakthrough in research funding arrived in 2005 with the launch by Sport England of the £6m a year nationwide ‘Active People Survey’ to get accurate representative data on sports participation for the first time. It provided this data for over ten years, being replaced by the ‘Active Lives Survey’ in 2015 to update the research methodology.

View 3 pictures below, left to right, click to enlarge for captions.

9.3 Planning for sport and sports centres from the 1990s

9.3.1 Introduction

From the earliest days of sports centre provision it had been necessary for providers to work closely with Local Authority Planning Departments on individual schemes, if only for the simple fact that they required planning permission (example: Planning Application Alton Sports Centre – 2018). The need for such collaboration with the planning profession was recognised early by the Sports Council with, for example, two eminent town planners appointed to the ‘Planning for Sport’ Working Party in 1965, the membership of town planners on technical committees of Regional Sports Councils, and the appointment of town planners to the Council’s staff.

But practice on the ground was extremely variable before 1990. At national level, this in part stemmed from an apparent reluctance on the part of Government, and its planners, to embrace sport fully within the statutory planning system, and in part because the Sports Council ‘lacked teeth’ apart from in the relatively few matters in which it had a financial involvement, such as the development of the Standardised Approach to Sports Halls (SASH) programme (see Chapter 4). At local level performance was very varied, with some excellent examples of co-operation between Planning and Leisure Departments; but at the other extreme it was not unknown for Sports Council staff attending meetings to have to introduce an Authority’s staff from Planning and Leisure to one another.

But from 1990 onwards there were significant leaps forward, which we explain below.

9.3.2  Recalling the earlier context

It is important first to remember the earlier planning context for sports centres: 1960s-1980s, as referred to in previous Chapters, and how such planning progressed to the 1990s.

The post-war New Towns Act 1946 and Town and Country Planning Act 1947, and subsequent New Town plans, marked the first important landmarks for planning sports centres. New Towns and Expanded Towns were planned in the two decades after the war and some of the early town plans in the 1960s, under the Acts, were at the heart of the creation of the first sports centres (see also Chapter 1 – 1.1). As we saw in Chapter 2, Harlow was the prime example, with the first UK indoor community sports centre being a vital part of the Harlow New Town plan (Harlow Sportcentre opened in 1964). Other towns were also to benefit subsequently from new centre facilities, including Bracknell and Milton Keynes outside London; Newton Aycliffe and Peterlee in the north-east; Corby in the Midlands; Cwmbran in Wales; and East Kilbride in Scotland.

The following timeline provides a helpful summary for sport and sports centre planning up to 1991.

Year Statutory and Quasi Statutory Advisory – The Sports Council
1946 New Towns Act
1947 Town and Country Planning Act
1962 Town and Country Planning Act
1964 Joint Circular by MHLG and DES, ‘Provision of Facilities for Sport’
1968 Town and Country Planning Act
1968 ‘Planning for Sport’
1970 MHLG Circular, ‘Sports Facilities and the Planning Acts’
1971 Town and Country Planning Act Study 1, ‘Indoor Sports Centres’
1972 ‘Provision for Sport’
1973 DoE Circular, ‘Provision for Sport and Physical Recreation’
1975 White Paper, ‘Sport and Recreation’ ‘Sports Halls: A New Approach to their Dimensions and Use’
1980 First round of ‘Regional Recreation Strategies’
1981 ‘Handbook of Sports and Recreational Building Design’
1982 ‘Sport in the Community; the Next Ten Years’ AND

‘Identifying the Market’

1989 ‘Into the ‘90s’ AND

Second round of Regional Recreation Strategies

1990 Town and Country Planning Act
1991 PPG 17, ‘Sport and Recreation’
The National Context post 1990

We examine this under two broad headings; initiatives emanating from the Government and those emanating from the Sports Council/Sport England; some were specifically related to planning, whilst others had different origins but nevertheless a significant impact on the planning of centres.

9.3.3  Government Initiatives
  •  Planning Policy Guidance 17: Sport and Recreation (PPG 17), 1991

The publication of PPG 17 by the Department of the Environment in 1991 was a major landmark in embedding sport firmly within the statutory planning system. It was updated, and extended in its coverage, by a revision by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (John Prescott) in 2002 under the title “Planning for Open Space, Sport and Recreation”. It was intended to encourage Local Authority planning departments to understand and plan for the importance of open space and sport in the lives of people and their communities. As the foreword to the document says “Open spaces, sport and recreation all underpin people’s quality of life. Well designed and implemented planning policies for open space, sport and recreation are therefore fundamental to delivering broader Government objectives.”

The document went on to encourage Local Authorities to put much more emphasis on the assessment of need: –

“To ensure effective planning for open space, sport and recreation it is essential that the needs of local communities are known. Local Authorities should undertake robust assessments of the existing and future needs of their communities for open space, sports and recreational facilities.

  1. Assessments will normally be undertaken at district level, although assessments of strategic facilities should be undertaken at regional or sub-regional levels.
  2. As a minimum, assessments of need should cover the differing and distinctive needs of the population for open space and built sports and recreational facilities. The needs of those working in and visiting areas, as well as residents should also be included.
  3. Local Authorities should also undertake audits of existing open space, sports and recreational facilities, the use made of existing facilities, access in terms of location and costs (such as charges) and opportunities for new open space and facilities. Audits should consider both the quantitative and the qualitative elements of open space, sports and recreational facilities. Audits of quality will be particularly important as they will allow Local Authorities to identify potential for increased use through better design, management and maintenance”.

(The full text of the document can be seen at –

In other words, PPG17 required researching local provision and need and the production of a plan for Sport and Open Space. Most Local Authorities have copies of their PPG Assessments on their websites or refer to them in their Local Development Framework (the successors to Local Plans.) In relation to centres PPG 17 assessments often involved condition and suitability surveys of existing facilities. In view of the fact that many centres had been built in the early 1970s this often showed up the need for re-investment or renewal either due to neglect and dilapidation or through demographic change. PPG 17 therefore often led to a re-evaluation of local built provision as well as enhanced protection for open space.

On 27 March 2012 PPG17, et al, were replaced by the National Planning Policy Framework, thereby ensuring that sport and recreation now feature in all Local Authority planning documents.

  • National Planning Framework

There is also a broad, national context for sports planning and assessments for sports centres in the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which requires local planning authorities to set out policies to help enable communities to access high quality open spaces and opportunities for sport and recreation. The National Sports Councils in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England have continued to provide a lead in sports and recreation planning.

In 1995 the Chief Leisure Officers Association (CLOA) instigated an initiative for Local Leisure Plans. In 1997 CLOA circulated a National Consultation Paper to all local authorities in England and Wales as well as partner organisations in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In 1998 DCMS appointed Leisure Futures to draft guidance on Local Cultural Strategies (LCS) in conjunction with CLOA and LGA. In 1999 DCMS issued Draft Guidance to local authorities on LCS preparation and selected 14 authorities to pilot the Guidance. DCMS monitored the pilots and published “Creating Opportunities Guidance to Local Authorities in England on Local Cultural Strategies” in December 2000. This was non-statutory encouragement to prepare strategies, but adoption was at best patchy. The adoption of a strategy then became part of the performance review for Local Authorities under Best Value Performance Indicator BVPI 114. This recommendation encouraged Local Authorities to formalise and publish plans for the strategic development of their cultural and culture-related services. DCMS guidelines used a broad definition of culture and recognized the value of partnership working within localities, regions and sub-regions. It also reflected the importance attached by central government to the cultural planning approach within local government.

As recorded by Abigail Gilmore, Manchester University (Local Cultural Strategies – Cultural Trends 2014), cultural planning encourages a sensitive approach to local cultural development, focusing on a diverse range of ‘cultural resources’, including leisure and sports facilities. This also includes qualities of the natural and built environment, youth and ethnic communities, as well as the need for different Local Authority service departments and private, voluntary and other public sector partners to be involved early in strategic development. According to this approach, culture is broadly defined as a ‘way of life’, and DCMS’s guidance states that Local Cultural Strategies should promote cultural well-being and the quality of life in their designated areas.

As a result, Local Cultural Strategies (LCS) have been developed at all tiers of English local government, including districts, metropolitan boroughs, unitary authorities, counties and regions. Each LCS has been developed using different approaches to the task, both in the methodologies for consultation employed and the frameworks for monitoring and evaluation of the cultural provision they offer. The strategies offer an opportunity to examine local approaches to cultural planning. However, the benefits, and problems, associated with the production of Local Cultural Strategies as strategic development frameworks for local culture and the future of the process is questioned following their ‘subsumption’ into Community Strategies as part of a broader package of reforms for local government.

As far back as “Planning for Sport” (1968) the Sports Council had emphasised the need for local plans to fill in National provision recommendations and LCSs did just that. Although they embraced sports provision (see for example the Merton Borough Council’s Culture and Sport Framework in the link below), they also largely coincided with a period of financial cutbacks and capital controls and hence the LCSs were in many cases less than ambitious, recognising the financial facts of life. And although, as noted above, each strategy used different methodologies and involved varying degrees of details, they were often produced for local areas by leisure consultants who many Local Authorities turned to in the absence (in many cases) of in-house skills. This often produced uniform and generic approaches which was rather at odds with the original purpose of localisation. The role of consultants in the research, planning and management of centres is considered later in this Chapter.

  • The Private Finance Initiative (PFI), 1992

The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) was launched in 1992 by the Government to fund a range of public capital developments and became an extra factor in planning at one stage. A number of Local Authorities used this funding route for new sports centres, so it became part of the planning picture for centres. For example, PFI funded sports centres included the first UK PFI centre in Sefton (Crosby Leisure Centre) and from 2003-2006 provision in Amber Valley, Rotherham, Rushcliffe, Penwith, Brent, Wolverhampton, Uttlesford, Bristol, Leeds and Wigan. Many of the centre schemes involved management operators at the time, especially DC Leisure, Leisure Connection and Parkwood. Later, PFI schemes became much criticised for their long-term costs and operation and largely became unpopular.

  • The ‘schools factor’ in planning centres, 1988 onwards

As fundamental was the fact that by now sports halls (and often dance studios and synthetic pitches) were becoming standard provision in secondary schools which, by their location and distribution, were the archetypal community facilities. As we saw in Chapter 8, the Education Reform Act, 1988 and the Learning and Skills Act, 2000, and subsequent related legislation, brought about fundamental changes in the operation and management of schools. In this changed context schools, increasingly conscious of promoting themselves, were ready to open their facilities to public use (and income) – especially if they wanted Lottery funds. In addition in this context, the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) was another means of school provision – and management.

  • Section 106 Planning Agreements

Although not new (replacing Section 52 of the Town & Country Planning Act, 1971) Planning Agreements under Section 106 of the Town & Country Planning Act, 1990 enabled financial contributions by developers for additional community facilities. This has since been replaced by the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). Some centres have been achieved, or their funding assisted, by this planning arrangement. Budmouth Sports Centre, in Weymouth, received S106 funding in 2002 and Bewbush Leisure Centre in Crawley (no longer operational) was originally provided in this way.

  • Other Government Initiatives

 Other Government inspired initiatives, including Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT), Comprehensive Performance Assessments and Best Value also influenced a better planning process for new centres. In Chapter 8 we saw that the pressures on local government funding and the arrival of a range of other factors influencing the planning scene. Of course, since the 1990s, with so many centres from the previous decades needing refurbishment or replacement, decisions became difficult, especially later with the financial crash of 2009 and the economic climate of the time, as we see in Chapter 10.

9.3.4  Sports Council/Sport England Initiatives

There are references in Chapter 4 – 4.2, and in 9.2, to the significant role of the Sports Council in initiating, leading and commissioning research into sports centres. The Sports Council (and then Sport England) has also played a key role at the strategic planning level. Planning – in various forms – was always a primary function of the Sports Council, and from its inception it was intent on a planned approach to the development of Sport.

  • Sports Council Planning Initiatives

 From the 1990s and into the 21st century, the Sports Council (Sport England from 1997) assiduously promoted good quality strategic planning and pursued specific planning issues for sport. As in other areas of policy, there was a surge of planning initiatives not least through Sports Council publications and events at national and regional level. These included ‘District Sport and Recreation Strategies – A Guide’. In 1992 the Sports Council commissioned a major study of planning obligations for sport and recreation, as a means of providing new facilities through housing, office or retail development. ‘Planning Obligations for Sport and Recreation: A Guide for Negotiation and Action’ was published in 1993. In 1994 the Sports Council’s ‘Planning and Provision for Sport Factfiles’ indicated the extent of the ‘planning’ remit in its list of contents:-

  • Land-use Planning: Policy Planning Guidance Note: Sport and Recreation; Planning Matters for Leisure; Planning Obligations for Sport and Recreation; Planning for Sport and Recreation in Green Belts; Planning Appeals for Sport and Recreation; Floodlighting for Sport.
  • Sport and Recreation Planning: Facilities Planning Model; Planning for Stadia; Planning for Golf; The Demand for Golf – ‘After the Boom’; Local Swimming Development Plans; Planning and Provision for Motorsports; Planning and Provision for Airsports; Planning and Provision for Motorised Watersports.
  • Sport and Recreation Information Systems
  • Facility Provision and Development: The Selection, Maintenance Usage and Cost Effectiveness of Natural Turf Football Pitches; Small Community Recreation Centres; Project Development; Project Briefs.
  • Research papers: Information Sources and survey methods for Sport and Recreation; Trends in Sports Participation.

In addition, the Sports Council/Sport England encouraged National Governing Bodies of sport to produce their own facilities strategies, leading to ‘Specialist Facilities Strategies’ to complement ‘Community Sports Facilities’. On the advent of the Lottery national and regional recreation strategies were produced to guide future development of all kinds across the country. The strategic purposes of centres formed part of the planning process.

Since 2000 the following publications are just examples of the considerable national information and guidance on planning for sport available for Local Authorities and developers : –

  • The Framework for Sport in England (Sport England, 2003)
  • Strategic Planning for Sport Revisited – Planning Bulletin 15 (Sport England, 2004)
  • Public sports and recreation services – making them fit for the future (Audit Commission, 2006)
  • Sport England Strategy; 2008-2011 (Sport England, 2008)
  • Sport Matters: The Northern Ireland Strategy for Sport and Physical Recreation 2009-2019 (NI Department for Communities, 2009)
  • Creating a Sporting Habit for Life; 2012-2016 (Sport England, 2012)
  • A Vision for Sport in Wales – Community Sports Strategy 2012-2020 (Sport Wales)
  • Sport England’s Strategic Facilities Fund prospectus (2013-17)
  • Assessing needs & opportunities for indoor and outdoor sports facilities (Sport England, 2014)
  • Fit for the Future: Facing the challenges for tomorrow (The Sport + Recreation Alliance, 2015)
  • Towards an Active Nation; 2016-2021 (Sport England, 2016)
  • Facilities for Future Generations (Sport Wales, 2016)
  • Sport for Life – A vision for sport in Scotland (Sport Scotland, 2019).
  • Planning for Sport Guidance (Sport England, 2019)

View 6 pictures below, left to right, click to enlarge for captions.

  • Facilities Planning Model (FPM) – Assessment of Provision

The evolution of the planning process for centres has reflected an increase in sophistication, aided by the arrival of other contributory factors and processes, such as the Facilities Planning Model (FPM).

The Facilities Planning Model had been developed by Sport Scotland in the 1980s, “to research, develop and apply a computerised planning model aimed at assessing the need for sports and recreational facilities at the community level of provision”. Geographical analysis by population remains a continuing factor for centres within the FPM, which involves the collection of significant amounts of data over relatively small geographical areas and uses a predictive ‘model’ to estimate the need in the future to increase or rationalise the supply side of the equation.  It was to bring a much more precise calculation of demand and location, compared with the earlier standards of population or travel-time catchments.

The Model was adopted and tested enthusiastically north of the border before being promoted by Sport England across England.

There were initially some enthusiastic ‘champions’, but unfortunately in many parts of the country, already dealing with the extra demands of Lottery applications, threats to playing fields and other functions, there was not the capacity to offer a FPM service on demand.

The FPM was not exclusively a model for Local Authorities but the assumptions about ‘community facilities’ were exploded by the changes in the structure and expectations of schools during the two decades at the turn of the century. It could be argued that this explosion should have occurred a generation earlier. Of course, as observed by Jimmy Munn, there had been community provision on school sites right from the start.  One good reason – and another challenge to the FPM – was that decisions about locations ultimately depended on the availability of sites and for public investment schools were often the practical option.

Nevertheless, the FPM became the central and predominant planning tool for sport centres throughout the UK and is still being used in 2020 (see examples of use – the Cornwall FPM 1999 and The Northern Ireland Assembly Research Paper in 2012 ‘Grassroots sport in Northern Ireland’ – see extract). In 2003 Sport England launched an interactive computer-based tool for use by Local Authorities based on the Active Places facilities data in their area (Active Places Power) which began to play a key role and continues to do so in 2020.

  • The Lottery Sports Fund, 1994

 The advent of the National Lottery underscored the relationship between sport and planning. In its early days, when only capital schemes were supported, the overwhelming majority of projects required planning permission. Moreover, applicants were asked (among a host of other questions !!) how their scheme fitted into local strategies and plans. Sports Council Regional Planning Officers were also able to bring their skills to bear to assist potential applicants to develop schemes – a good example is Liverpool Soccer Centre, where two hitherto unrelated schemes were brought together and developed around an existing indoor sports centre.

Local Authorities Deliver
9.3.5  Local sports centre planning into the 21st Century

It is Local Authorities which have the responsibility for the local planning and provision of sport and recreation in their areas. They have a local strategic role through Local Development Frameworks (previously Local Plans) and an implementation role in granting permission for local developments through their development control function.

It is possible from the previous sections to discern a number of trends through the 1990s and into the 21st Century which set the context for Local Authorities in their provision of indoor centres:-

  • the need for a more holistic approach to leisure provision.
  • the need for a planned approach to such provision.
  • a greater political emphasis on social inclusion.
  • a greater emphasis on the important social and physical benefits of sports activity of all kinds, inside and outside of sports centres.
  • a recognition that health and fitness might be pursued in commercial suites of modern technology or in a variety of classes that did not need the comprehensive amenities of a leisure centre. We explore this further in Chapter 10.

Accordingly, since the 1990s, within the strategic, statutory and local site-specific context, more Local Authorities have adopted a systematic approach to reviewing and providing sports and leisure centres.

New or refurbished centres have usually come about as a result of some form of strategic review of local provision. Local Authorities have tackled sports centre planning in several different ways. However, though methods vary, the fundamental principles of planning are observed. Sometimes the focus has been specifically on the development of a new centre to replace an old one, so assessment of the options has been on a narrower base. Local recreation strategies had long been encouraged and many were undertaken through the 1980s and 1990s. In the wake of government requirements and advice, not least arising from CCT, Best Value and Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA), a new scenario emerged for the 21st century.

Alongside all these logistical planning methods and systems, centre developments have also inevitably been influenced by very local social, geographical, political and community influences. This is reflected in the development over the years of Cornwall’s sports and leisure centre provision.

The role and activity of Local Authorities in planning for sport and recreation in the 21st century is also best illustrated by reference to some selected local studies which have been published. These have included reviews of sports and leisure centre provision or, at least, references to provision. Four local examples of planning processes help provide a picture:-

I.   Brent BC (2008)

II.  Tamworth BC (2009/2014)

III. Rother DC (2015)

IV.  Kirklees MBC (2015)

I. Brent Borough Council – Planning for Sport & Active Recreation Facilities Strategy (2008-2021)

Brent  BC was selected by Sport England in 2007 as the first pilot authority in England to have a strategy completed on the basis of the proposed new approach to planning for sport and recreation facilities. It was then endorsed by Members. The document reflected the 2006 Active People Survey results, which had identified the Borough of Brent as having one of the lowest participation and volunteering rates in the country. It reviewed current levels of provision, indoors and outdoors, and was supplemented by a separate report commissioned to review three of Brent’s Sports Centres (Bridge Park, Charteris and Vale Farm) and offer a best-fit solution for future provision. Across the wide sports centre scene the quantity, quality, accessibility and demand of facilities was assessed. It highlighted there had been little investment in the Borough’s sporting infrastructure over the previous twenty years. The strategy sought to ensure a planned approach for provision in the future to match the existing and growing need of the community.

II.  Tamworth Borough Council – Joint Indoor and Outdoor Sports Strategy (2009/2014)

Tamworth BC adopted an indoor and outdoor sports strategy in 2009 and again in 2014. The 2014 Strategy used the Facilities Planning Model as the cornerstone for a detailed analysis of supply and demand and also the 2009 Active Places data. This identified a shortfall in sports hall provision, with Tamworth exporting 50% of demand to the facilities of adjoining Local Authorities.

III.  Rother District Council – Indoor Sports & Leisure Facilities Strategy: 2015-2025.

In 2015 Rother DC produced an updated strategy which was based on the Council’s corporate objectives and local plan and used Sport England’s Assessing Needs and Opportunities (ANOG) methodology. It included identifying the scale of provision for the possible development of a new public indoor sports and leisure facility in Bexhill. It complied with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and Planning Policy Guidance (PPG).

IV.  Kirklees MBC (2015) – Built Leisure and Sports Facilities Strategic Framework 2015-2020

The framework was developed to see how the Council can best achieve its aspirations for Health and Wellbeing in the light of the economic pressures it was facing. It considered the existing and projected supply of and demand for built leisure and sports facilities and identified gaps in provision. It also stressed the need to manage expectations in the emerging financial climate.

Many other Council studies followed a similar pattern, sometimes more or less expansive or more focused on facilities. Some further examples are listed: –

  • St. Albans City and District Sports and Recreation Strategy (December 2005) focused, in its facility appraisal, on the five main facilities being dated, having high energy costs, and inefficient design, thus proving unattractive to a largely affluent and active population.
  • ‘The London Plan for Sport and Physical Activity’ (2004-2008 – Mayor of London/Sport England and multiple partners) was a detailed set of policy proposals, priorities, actions, and potential stakeholders. A further plan in 2017 emphasised the importance of considering ‘active lives’ when making improvements to the capital’s infrastructure and embedding physical activity and sport into the lives of Londoners.
  • Sunderland MBC produced a Policy Review in 2011/12 “Building a Sustainable and Lasting Legacy in Sport and Physical Activity”.
  • Trafford Community Leisure Trust (operating for Trafford MBC) produced a Leisure Management Review in 2008, including facilities location/distribution, capital investment and revenue sustainability, and opportunities. By 2015 Trafford had announced a 5-year plan for £47m of investment in two new leisure centres.
  • Chichester District Council’s ‘Assessing Needs and Demands for Indoor Facilities’ review in July 2018 had an overall purpose to review provision in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework and Sport England Guidance (ANOG) to inform an investment strategy.
  • Northumberland County Council, a Unitary authority since 2009, prepared a Sports Facility Strategy in 2018, which was a very extensive document and followed NPPF requirements and ANOG on preparing and developing needs assessments for built sports facilities, and providing the evidence to support a Local Plan.
  • Breckland Council in Norfolk developed an ‘Evidence Base for Indoor and Built Sports and Recreation Facilities’ in 2017 to set out the current and future requirements of the District.
  • Rushcliffe Borough Council, which, as we saw in Chapter 8, was at the heart of ‘Joint Provision,’ produced a ‘Leisure Facilities Strategy 2017-2027, recognising the impact on current and future provision of the new Rushcliffe Arena opened in January 2017. The document supported the suite of local plan documents.
  • In 2013 Cheshire East Council undertook both a Management Options Appraisal for its facilities (April) and then a Facilities Development Statement (September).

 Many Local Authorities have also undertaken exercises in relation to specific centres:-

  • Fenland District Council in Cambridgeshire prepared ‘Improving Manor Leisure Centre’ (built in 1976).
  •  Hart District Council undertook a Feasibility Study for a Replacement Leisure Centre adjacent to Calthorpe School in Fleet (see also Chapter 8). 
  • In 2019 the Cabinet of East Suffolk Council examined re-development options for Felixstowe Leisure Centre (built in 1985) as a fourth project in an ongoing programme of works to re-develop ageing leisure facilities.

View 6 pictures below, left to right, click left to right to enlarge for captions.

The Local Authority studies recorded here are just a very small number of examples of widespread strategic recreation planning which has taken place across the UK in the 21st century, and has been designed to embrace sports and leisure centres. In addition, since the arrival of CCT, numerous Local Authorities have carried out options appraisals for the management of centres (see Chapter 8 – 8.2). These appraisals often embraced strategic reviews of existing facilities and considered planned or potential new centres.

Such studies and reviews have contributed to overall local planning policies. A Leisure Strategy for Central Bedfordshire Council, for example, used the Facilities Planning Model and had an input to statutory planning with chapters which were prepared to provide: –

  • procedures for a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) – for future adoption.
  • future standards and facility requirements to be met through the planning process and information for the Council’s Development Strategy and
  • the evidence base and facility requirements to fit Council leisure provision policy.
9.3.6      New challenges

As we see more fully in Chapter 10, by the 21st century ‘provision for participation’ had become the mantra, in an age where health and fitness has become a major community driver and is reflected in new centres. The means of increasing participation is not only seen in community sport and leisure centres, but more local, neighbourhood spaces.  Other factors are greater political emphasis on inclusion and more insight into issues of sports development, especially in relation to exclusion by gender and ethnicity. There were also signs that health and fitness might be pursued in commercial suites of modern technology or in a variety of classes that did not need the comprehensive amenities of a leisure centre. There is consideration of these and other trends in Chapter 10, where the nationwide investment in centres is nonetheless seen to continue.

These planning considerations have not prevented investment in new, free-standing, community sport and leisure centres. Nor have they prevented investment in the replacement of some of those first-generation sport and leisure centres, which had been a latent financial concern through the 1990s.  Crawley’s K2 Leisure Centre (2007), encapsulated in this Project’s title of ‘Harlow to K2 and Beyond’, is a striking example of such replacement of a 1960s’ centre located in the town centre. Yet it is at a school site and one element in the upgrading of schools and their sports facilities throughout the former New Town.

9.4 Centre design for the 21st Century

9.4.1      The context from the first three decades of centres

This section of Chapter 9 is a sequel to Chapter 4, which covered the foundations and early development of sports centre design from the early 1960s to 1995/96.  It also acts as an important prelude to Chapter 10, which is entirely focused on new centres developed between 2000 and 2021. The essence of sports centres and their design is the inter-action between the buildings, their operational use and the people involved – architects, construction companies, Council officials, operators, centre managers and users. There is also a close relationship between research, planning and design and this is demonstrated in the modern processes adopted to consider and develop a new centre.

Thirty years of centre developments following Harlow in 1964 saw a range of political, technical and financial factors shaping design. As the number of centres had increased across the country, design had to account for both urban and rural locations. The choice of facilities or the desired location, or both, influenced the design of centres, especially in relation to appropriate and accessible locations. Many centres had continued to be built around the early traditional ‘box’ sports hall. This basic format in the early days is reflected in the quite simple floor plans common in the 1970s, even when pools were included (see Carn Brea Leisure Centre floor plan 1974 and Dunstable Sports Centre specification 1974-1975). From the mid-1970s centre designs became more geared to the developing ‘leisure age’. They started to include a broader range of family facilities, such as leisure/fun pools, bowls halls, in some cases ice rinks, with better quality finishes and more complex layouts, as recorded in Chapter 6.

Local Authority in-house designs for centres had already started to decline through the 1980s and then largely ceased with externalisation of Local Authority technical services. Three major specialist architect practices had been operating on sports design since the late 1960s. Between 1974 and 1980 these architects, Faulkner Brown (Bletchley LC, 1974), Building Design Partnership (Northgate LC, Chester, 1976) and Gillinson & Barnett (Crowtree LC, Sunderland 1977) led the way with some futuristic and ground-breaking leisure-oriented designs. By the mid-1990s Sargent and Potiriadis (later to become S&P) had succeeded Gillinson & Barnett, notably designing centres with leisure pools in Manchester (Gorton Tub), Bracknell (Coral Reef), Romsey (Rapids) and Woking (Pool in the Park). S+P rebranded to Space & Place in 2017 (see Space & Place: Project Sponsors’ website – The three practices remain very active on the current scene.

Thus, the mix of buildings ranged from simple brick buildings centred around the sports hall block, and often looking fairly austere from the outside to more adventurous ‘leisure’ designs where both exteriors and interiors were priorities, such as those in Bletchley, Swindon [Oasis], Doncaster [Dome] and Guildford [Spectrum]. There was a huge learning curve from those first 25 years of designing centres.

View 4 pictures below, left to right, click to enlarge for captions.

9.4.2      Sports Architecture for the 21st Century

Until the mid-1990s, despite previous designs, buildings for sport and leisure faced a long struggle for significant architectural acceptance. In a modern and very rapidly changing technical and aesthetic scene, general architectural trends now impact upon the design of sports and leisure centres. Sports and leisure centre buildings now figure amongst the leading architectural genres of the 21st century. They may even be viewed as the cathedrals and railway stations of their time, and hopefully will equally stand the test of time (reference from ‘Sports Architecture’ – Rod Sheard, published by Spon).

As a broad indication, in seeking organic and dynamic solutions, the practice successors of the late, world famous architect Zaha Hadid (1950-2016) follow her three fundamentals – the site/location; starting without preconceptions; and the use dynamic tools. This means that their designs are prominent and conspicuous but not based on a preconceived design aim, rather outcomes of their process. Hadid became associated with and synonymous with the use of curves, as in the London Olympic Pool. The extensive use of curves has at times divided opinion. Some of these influences can be seen in modern leisure  centres.

Technology is playing an increasing role in the design of the buildings and the specifications for facilities. Geraint John, former Head of the Sports Council’s Technical Unit, now with Populous, said in 2017 “Sports architecture is continually evolving…. What we are seeing today is the introduction of more and more technology” (ref. CIMSPA magazine).

Architects and Local Authorities now seek to create modern, attractive landmark centre buildings, alongside meeting environmental priorities. There has been a huge shift to creating more pleasing overall exteriors compared to many of the brick-block looks of the past. The design of facades, entrances and foyers are more inviting, creating a pleasing exterior view. In addition, other changes include more glass frontages and the use of more glass internally, perhaps indicating the increased range of glass available to prevent glare and heat absorption. This has created better internal views throughout the centre. Curved roofs are used far more today. White roofs are also evident as they are better for environmental heat reduction.

There have been exceptions to these design generalisations, and some early centres sought to break new ground. For example, there were ‘experimental’ designs such as those in Bletchley, Swindon [Oasis], Doncaster [Dome] and Guildford [Spectrum]. 21st century centres generally reflect modern architecture and the desire to create interiors which are both attractive and functional (see Design Trends – Harlow to K2 and Beyond).

The case for centres in the 21st century is made in the belief that such buildings, through their design and use, generate happiness and a sense of community that touches all aspects of our lives, economic, political, sporting and social. This is all very much in line with the early thinking and justification for such centres as outlined in the chapters of Part One.

9.4.3 Procurement processes

The procurement of an architect by a Local Authority for a new leisure centre is subject to local government procurement procedures. Nonetheless there can be differing routes to creating a shortlist and making an appointment, including using the Architects Journal and the leisure press to announce that an architect is being sought by competition. For example, from 2015 to 2017, the Councils of Coventry, Highland, Derry & Strabane, and Winchester each sought architect interest through the Journal. The design competition in 2016 for a new Finsbury Leisure Centre for Islington Council (on a replacement site) was won in a 5-strong competition by architects Pollard Thomas Edwards. Other forms of open competition include using a select list or public advertisement. Prior to the UK leaving the European Union the process had to comply with European Joint Competition [EJC] rules. The Cabinet Office published on 7/1/21 Procurement Policy Note 08/20 – ‘Introduction of Find a Tender’, setting out the changes to procurement which came into effect on Jan 1st, 2021.

9.4.4      1996-2020 – the changes

Since 1996 there have been many changes in the design of centres, based on experience and advances in technology, together with modern architectural concepts and techniques linked to the changing social, environmental, leisure and sporting scene. This is underpinned by the continuing priority Local Authorities give to centres in providing an important local resource. A somewhat pluralistic approach to provision has developed, with facilities often designed to fit specific markets or objectives – local, district or sub-regional as well joint provision schemes (see Chapter 8) or university requirements or specialist facilities for particular sports (and even some old buildings, mainly pools with newer additions, have survived. A few are even listed).

The interface between research, planning and design is illustrated in the modern age by Culley and Pascoe (Sports Facilities and Technologies, Routledge 2015), who stated that “Developers, designers, and operators increasingly need to create safe, versatile sports amenities that are of lasting value to local and wider communities. Successful sports and leisure facilities must be user-friendly and operate efficiently. The design process involves many disciplines which are interdependent and mutually supportive, using a holistic approach to achieve the appropriate controls, simplicity, efficiency and economy.”

So, by 2000, sports centre design had reached a higher level of sophistication. Guidance for design and costs had been widely published and updated regularly, especially by Sport England. We have seen in Chapters 4 and 7 that the Sports Council’s Technical Unit for Sport had pioneered the SASH programme of standardised centre design in 1983. Sport England then led at the start of the 21st century with 5 ‘off-the-peg design’ Optimum Sports Halls across England at Langdon School, East Ham, London; The Robert Clack School, Dagenham; St Mary’s College, Hull; Langdon School Newham; Fakenham Community Sports Facility, Norfolk.

View 3 pictures below, left to right, click to enlarge and for captions.

9.4.5      The overall principles and key step for a new centre in the 21st Century
  • Principles and key steps

Apart from schools, a new leisure centre for a town or area is now probably the biggest and most prestigious building a Local Authority can procure. The role and scope of Local Authorities today, under government financial controls, means that it is also one of the few large complexes an Authority can commission itself.

The new centres developed and being planned in the 21st century are generally based on five key principles to: –

  1. provide new buildings and, if required, replace old centres that do not meet modern building sustainability and economic priorities or demographic change
  2. achieve lower revenue costs from well designed, well targeted and well-used facilities under revised management contracts, based on sound business plans for revenue streams.
  3. continue to provide opportunities to meet modern and changing leisure and recreation interests. The local leisure centre is perhaps seen as essential as a mobile phone in the modern world.
  4. give opportunities to encourage physical activity for a healthy lifestyle and to potentially take the opportunity to blend the recreation facilities with other community services.
  5. meet statutory requirements for Health and Safety and Accessibility. The 21st century also demands environmentally sustainable development which requires an overall approach that is pervasive throughout the development process.

From the initiation of the process by a Local Authority, the following steps show the broad development pathway that is taken. Not all authorities adopt the same pathway, but all largely reflect the key steps.

The five key steps of the process, which are underpinned by the five key principles above, normally go – from –

a) A feasibility study, including the business plan (as revenue drives the brief and shapes projected local demand thus avoiding an over-scaled project) and which may also initially involve an overall strategic review of facility provision in the area – to

b) The brief itself, which is particularly important politically and for the architect, reflecting user and owner/operator needs – to

c) The architect led masterplan embracing site/location and environmental issues – to

d) The detailed architectural design in accordance with RIBA and statutory standards and any public consultation – and this then leads on to

e) Seeking planning permission (see Alton Sports Centre example) and –

f) commissioning the construction (unless a design & build route has been chosen). This stage may partially overlap with the architectural design, depending on the format and timing of contractor procurement, and the centre experience of some contractors to contribute to final design detail.

9.4.6  New centres for old?

Billingham Forum

Where existing, longstanding centres are part of a strategic review of the area or a feasibility study, one challenge is whether to build new or refurbish. The last twenty years has been dominated by the huge number of older centres in need of replacement or major refurbishment. The extensive refurbishment of Billingham Forum, which opened in 1967, was a successful project undertaken from 2009 to 2011, and carried out at a cost of £18.5M.

Looking at new centres in this century (fully explored in Chapter 10), a vast number of centre projects have been directly linked to the desire to replace ‘old, worn out’ centres dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. In many cases a project has started out asking the question – do we plan for a new centre(s) or do we refurbish? One consideration has been that some refurbishments of 1970s centres have not stood the test of durability in a fairly short time. There have been examples of the refurbishment route successfully being chosen for financial and/or practical reasons. Fairfield Pool and Leisure Centre in Dartford was over 40 years old and between 2014 and 2016 it was completely refurbished by taking it back to its concrete frame and extended with a new

Swansea LC2

sports hall. At £12M this was a much lower cost than a completely new building. Swansea Leisure Centre (see Chapter 10) was officially opened by the Queen in 1977 but was deemed unsafe in 2003 and closed amid much political argument. After much debate about the building and the task of refurbishment, it was virtually gutted and the shell completely refitted at a cost of up to £32M, re-branded as LC2 and re-opened by the Queen in 2008. Perhaps the only centre to be opened twice by Her Majesty!

Given the poor state of many existing centres, a far greater proportion of Local Authorities have opted for replacement with a new centre, often situated at a new location within a revised and rationalised district-wide plan and a revised management contract. One new centre that has achieved significant revenue savings is Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre in St. Albans, where substantial annual savings approaching £1M have been claimed. Refurbishment of Tewkesbury Leisure Centre at £3.8M was not viewed as value for money against the new centre that went ahead for £8M and also removed a £148,000 revenue subsidy. Oldham Council invested in two new centres to replace four old buildings, reducing annual net operating costs from £1.7M to £400,000. The vast Spectrum in Guildford (1993) is an example of a centre that suffered early from technical issues, especially with its roof. Consequently, its replacement became an issue by the early part of the 21st century (see Chapter 10).

A new building has all the advantages of a new design and modern technology. Time will tell if the new centres have greater durability and longevity than their predecessors.

9.4.7      How has design changed and developed from the mid-1990s until 2020
  • Swimming pool and sports trends

A significant change since the mid-1990s has been the sharp decline, almost to zero now, in the provision of new leisure pools. There is no doubt leisure pools are great for families ‘messing about in water’ but there is now an emphasis on traditional swimming pool provision. This is due to the increased use and value of conventional lane pools for health and fitness swimming; competitive swimming demands; the spatial flexibility afforded by ‘boom dividers’ and moveable floors in traditional pools to create smaller spaces for lessons; and the higher staffing costs for leisure pools. There have not been any ‘mega-sized’ centres as was seen in the 1970s and 1980s when a few large centres were developed with grand leisure facility aspirations. These centres were usually built with insufficient regard for revenue costs, especially the staffing needs to operate the centres successfully. For example, from 1977, Crowtree had over 200 hundred staff on the payroll (145 full-time equivalent).

Sports hall provision has also declined in importance with far fewer large eight-badminton court sports halls (except for universities) and many more of four-badminton court size. Some of this may be due to the growth of outdoor 5-a-side football on floodlit artificial surfaces, as opposed to indoor, which previously tended to dominate sports halls. Additionally, the growth since the 1990s of other specialist event venues has been significant. New sports and leisure centres do not have the space or budget to provide and store the demountable seating that facilitated many major events at centres until the 1990s. New bowls hall provision is limited, squeezed by some indoor clubs building their own facilities and paradoxically, for the majority user age group, lower indoor bowls participation in some areas.

Go Climb

Design has also been led by provision for new popular activities of the age, such as indoor climbing and other attractive ‘adventure’ activities. These include climbing experiences at Crawley’s K2 (2005) where the prominent climbing wall in the large foyer lent itself to the Centre’s modern name. The substantial ‘Go Climb’ experience at the refurbished Billingham Forum saw an

Adrenaline Centre

end to the sports hall, and the 1970s’ Haslingden Sports Centre, marketed now as the ‘Adrenaline Centre’ and aimed at family groups, includes ‘Grip and Go’ climbing and laser tag. In 2019 Harlow Leisurezone (2010) converted its large tennis hall to a huge new Urban Limitz Adventure Trampoline Park (see also Chapter 10 for new trends).

9.4.8    New priorities and arrangements come to bear

New centre developments have taken place despite economic pressures on local government, especially during the decade of financial austerity from 2009. Up to 2020 this has helped to create a vibrant architectural design and construction market for centres. Operational management input to design has changed too, from the role of the early appointed individual centre manager up to around the 1990s, to input now from the designated operator organisation. Increasingly that input is made at an early stage, and throughout the design process. An imperative for the design of some new centres has been the move to broaden the role of the centre. This can include health and well-being priorities and community services, such as a library or a GP practice, creating new design concepts and perhaps influencing locations (see Chapter 10).

As nearly all centres are now managed on a quasi-commercial basis by trusts (local, regional or national – see Chapter 8) the operational management contracts with them, which have been negotiated or re-negotiated as part of ‘new centre’ development deals, have underpinned the large number of centres commissioned in the last 20 years. One concern is that as Local Authority budgets have continued to be squeezed, socially inclusive use of centres might be too easily over-ridden by the need to increase income and improve financial performance.

K2 Crawley

The ‘fitness boom’ of the 1990s has had a significant impact on the design process for public facility provision in the 21st century. The advances in the private gym sector challenged local authorities to provide commercial standard gyms and group activities for members. Gym membership has become part of everyday life for many. Schemes such as that at K2 in Crawley in 2007 saw the gym placed at the forefront of the scheme in a light airy and visible position to attract the public. Space and Place’s large Littlehampton Wave gym on the first floor is highly visible from the outside, with large glass windows providing users with a panoramic view overlooking the seafront and English Channel. The design motto has become ‘accessible sport for all, not closed boxes’.

9.4.9    Technology plays a big part

Design and installation details principally evolve from conceptual ideas for a new age and technical advancements. Some of the most radical changes over the years have been related to technical plant, in particular for swimming pools and more generally across the building in terms of heating, lighting and ventilation. In the case of swimming pools, the visual impact is now far removed from the public baths and pools scene, particularly pre-1970, when pool halls often resembled the flooded downstairs of a hospital! Technological advances in relation to energy conservation, temperature controls, rooms to room (where again guidance is published by Sport England), and minimising maintenance costs have been extremely important. Sustainability has become a watchword for design and construction and the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) is the world’s leading sustainability assessment method for master-planning projects, infrastructure and buildings. It recognises and reflects the value in higher performing assets across the built environment lifecycle, from new construction to refurbishment.

Two new centres provide examples of new standards and procedures. The Ebbw Vale Sports Centre, a key part of the town centre’s regeneration, provides a 25-metre, six-lane swimming pool with viewing gallery, fun pool with slides, fitness suite, weights room, cafeteria and a six badminton-court sports hall with seating. Designed by BDP, it has been built by Willmott Dixon to a BREEAM Excellent standard. St Sidwell’s Point, Exeter’s new leisure centre, designed by Gale & Snowden Architects in conjunction with Space & Place, is set to open in the Summer of 2022. It is the Council’s flagship in the city centre regeneration masterplan. It is a pioneering £44M Leisure Centre and is aiming for Passivhaus certification for the swimming pool to become a world first for a leisure centre (Passivhaus is the leading international low energy, design standard). Brighouse and Sowerby leisure centres for Calderdale Council are being built not only to BREEAM standards but also to WRAP’s Designing out Waste process. Bluetooth beacons are another modern development for centre technology. Bluetooth beacons are hardware transmitters that enable smartphones, tablets and other devices to perform actions when near the beacon.

9.4.10    Other key features and processes of today’s sports centre design
  • Knowledge of good practice for sports and leisure centre design is now well established, and it follows modern architecture, which is generally recognised by simple format and exciting contemporary styles. Much is said in the architectural world of the ‘design concept’. At times, for sports centres, this can be an elusive term to define. It can be an idea, a thought or notion that forms the backbone of a centre design that gives meaning and reason to the building itself – and is reflected in form and volume, location, materials used, specific leisure facilities provided and user space and circulation, and so on. Architects today seek to achieve fully integrated design solutions which deliver the most sustainable, low energy building designs in fitting locations, to satisfy modern sport and leisure demands and provide cost-effective solutions.
  • Moberley Sports Centre

    Centres are now being developed not just as single buildings but as part of larger town master-planning schemes. This is the case with St. Sidwell’s in Exeter, and with the cross-funding from 150 new homes that created the provision of the £26M Moberley Sports Centre in Westminster, which has also provided the Council with a positive revenue position.

  • The design brief today is usually quite a sophisticated document, often prepared with the help of consultants, who may have been involved in preceding strategic facility reviews as referred to earlier. Architects can draw on knowledge and ideas from previous centre design experience. Local Authorities can also be led by facility ingredients/design concepts that they may have seen elsewhere. The design brief usually includes a design specification that defines the service and accommodation outputs that the client requires. The brief can continue to evolve during the design process either through financial necessity or consumer/community input.
  • The differences between the past and present are highlighted in Belfast. The Royal Society of Ulster Architects addressed what it saw as the “numbing reality” of the first wave of Belfast centres from the 1980s, which commonly featured blank sports hall boxes with no natural light and little public or social space. The new £7M Falls Leisure Centre, designed by Kennedy Fitzgerald Architects, opened in late January 2005, is seeking to rectify that past ‘reality’.
  • Experience, technical progress and established guidance and recommendations through the national Sports Councils have led to the early design flaw ‘chestnuts’, such as changing room provision, floor surfaces, and the sports hall wall colours, floor court lines and lighting, largely ceasing to be issues.

View 4 pictures below, left to right, click to enlarge and for captions.

  • New public sports centres now provide gyms of equal or superior size and design standards to their independent private sector counterparts (see Chapter 10). They have become a design and income priority, at times at the expense of ancillary halls or specialist sports facilities. There is a strong view that the income generated by centre gyms through well-promoted membership schemes (competing with private sector gyms) has been the financial salvation of public sports centre revenue, given the lower return on sports halls and swimming pools. Thus, new public centres have sought to capitalise on this with even larger modern gyms with ‘new-technology’ equipment to maximise income. Some gyms have nearly been as big as a four-badminton court sports hall.
  • Today foyer and reception areas are vastly improved, both spatially and in terms of providing welcoming spaces. Many foyers extend to generously embracing their café facilities, as at Harlow Leisurezone.
  • The use of CAD (computer-aided design) [which is software used by architects, engineers, or construction managers to create precision drawings or illustrations of new buildings as either two-dimensional drawings or three-dimensional models] revolutionised building design and facilitated a far better understanding of designs by clients. This has been extended to integrated software for PCB (design and analysis tools) and CAM, a special type of computer memory used in certain very-high-speed searching applications. The ability now to create ‘live walk through’ visuals of the outside and inside of building designs is a far cry from clients viewing the flat layout, diagrammatic plans of the past.
  • Ensuring design provides access for all is now a significant factor. There has been progress in the past, albeit slowly at times, but the Disability Discrimination Acts of 1995 and 2005, together with the Equality Act 2010, added further weight to the importance within overall and specific design detail.
  • Birmingham University Sports Centre

    Increasingly major projects are seeing some variety in architectural procurement arrangements. A ‘design and build’ contract is one option, often pursued for smaller centres. Whilst most centre designs in the 21st century so far have been led by a single architect practice, there are increasing examples, especially on major schemes, of joint working by two practices.

    St. Sidwells under construction Feb 2021

    For example, whilst the design for the London 2012 Olympic Pool was led by Zaha Hadid Architects, Space & Place were the specialist sports architects on the project. Space & Place have played similar roles for Lifschutz Davidson Sandiland, the lead architects for Birmingham University’s new sports centre, and for Gale & Snowden Architects Ltd, lead architects for the St. Sidwell’s Point Centre in Exeter.

The recruitment and role of the construction company is also vitally important. Wilmott Dixon is a good example of a company developing an expansive specialism in leisure centres, working closely with architects and taking an interest and involvement beyond the bricks and mortar.

  • One of the biggest challenges that faces architects and other technical experts today is attempting, in their designs, to provide some ‘future-proofing’ and flexibility for changes that may occur in the future in terms of both user demographics and activity trends and interests. Quite a challenge.
9.4.11    Architectural practices and the sports & leisure centre scene in 2021

Some of the first pioneering architects were still at work in 2000. We have mentioned that in 2021 three major players from the 1970s continue successfully (9.4.1). Arthur Gomez designed Farnham Sports Centre in 1978 and continued until his Edge Centre design near Haslemere in 2000. However, in the last twenty years architectural practices have had a growing interest in the leisure scene and the current marketplace sees a large number of architects offering ‘leisure’ as one of their ‘specialisms’. Many are designing centres. [See Architects Choice – a link section detailing a range of 21st century architectural practices, with some examples of their centres].

View 4 pictures below, left to right, click to enlarge and for captions.

9.5  The Role of Consultancy

 9.5.1  The Consultancy Scene: 1970 – 1990s

In various ways consultancy has played a significant role on the sports scene generally and for sports centres specifically. Sports and leisure consultancy was very much in its infancy in 1970. One of the earliest recreation consultancies was Loughborough Recreation Planning Consultants (LRC), first registered as a company in 1967 and emerging from the Loughborough academic scene, led by John Jeffery. It had undertaken two significant feasibility studies in the early 1970s for Sunderland Council (see Crowtree LC  full feasibility study) and for the States of Guernsey (Beau Sejour Centre).

In addition to the Loughborough grouping, L&R Leisure Consultants [later L&R Leisure plc] was founded in 1970 by Michael Ryan and Fergus Hobbs. It was probably the first specialist leisure & tourism consultancy in the country, undertaking a broad range of sports, leisure and tourism studies. George Torkildsen and Ron Pickering then set up the Torkildsen Pickering Consultancy, an important consultancy for sport generally and sports centres in particular. It was to thrive through more than two decades. The three organisations identified were initially the principal specialist consultancies, apart from academic institutions at that time, such as the Centre for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS – see the Research link) at Birmingham University. Those with an academic base were often used for research work. The big accountancy-based management consultancies such as Coopers and Lybrand (later Price Waterhouse Coopers) and Ernst and Young, often gained commissions through their audit relationship with Local Authorities. Several later consultants cut their teeth with the Torkildsen Pickering Partnership, including Jim Lynch. Jim is now Director at Ploszajski Lynch Consulting, and is one of the longest serving current consultants having started in the 1980s and spanned the whole sports and leisure scene. In the early days, The Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) also had a consultancy arm, as did Sport England in the form of ‘Sportspartner’.

By the early 1980s the market had grown as Local Authorities sought advice and support for specific projects and strategic overviews, often embracing sports centres and instigated as a result of CCT. By then Peter Mann (ex-Recreation Officer with Portsmouth City and later in 2007 first Chair of ISPAL), had established Strategic Leisure in 1988 and later PMP Consultancy and PMP Legacy, both of which prospered for a decade [PMP eventually had an abortive merger with Genesis in 2009 and eventually went into Administration in 2010]. Kit Campbell had set-up his ‘Associates’ company in the late 1980s and has continued to undertake a huge amount of work on strategic sports planning, particularly for outdoor provision. Roger Quinton joined CIPFA in 1985 and in 1988 set up Roger Quinton Associates (later RQA Leisure Consultancy), which operated very successfully across the country. It was later continued by David Lord until 2018.

Foresight is a valuable asset but a difficult challenge for a consultant. This is well demonstrated by the farsighted comment of Michael Ryan at the 1982 Countryside Recreation Conference at the University of Bath –

“Are we not possibly making the mistakes that we made in the period of growth in reverse when we talk now about having 5 million unemployed in 1990. Can I put forward a suggestion that actually something quite different is happening. We are painfully changing from one way of living in an industrial society, into a much more service-orientated society based on new technology. We should try and prepare ourselves for a lot of new and interesting things that are going to happen”.

The emergence of the information age in the 1990s saw a new breed of ‘leisure consultant’ becoming ever more important on the research scene. As well as PMP and Kit Campbell Associates, new players emerged in the early 1990s, such as John Eady’s ‘Knight, Kavanagh and Page’ (KKP). Much of the focus of these consultants’ work was on supporting Local Authorities and sporting bodies produce ‘strategies’ and supporting Local Authorities in carrying out Planning Policy Guidance (PPG) 17 assessments.

9.5.2  Consultancy in the 21st Century

The role of the consultant continues today with just a few of the early practices remaining, including Strategic Leisure. In addition, in the early 2000s, in the wake of financial pressures on local government, several chief leisure officers took early retirement and entered the consultancy scene, often as associates in existing consultancies. This was alongside other more regular retirees from leisure management who took temporary posts to cover short-term vacancies, through a scheme run by the trading arm of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE).

Several newer practices operate with a high profile of activity.  Max Associates has operated since the turn of the century, especially for leisure management contract procurement. SLC (The Sport, Leisure and Culture Consultancy), was established in 2009 by Duncan Wood-Allum, formerly of the Capita Group. Newer consultancies also included those founded by ex-Sports Council/Sport England officers, including Trio Plus run by David Carpenter. It was the ‘improvement’ agenda of the early 2000s that sparked the rise of some new consultancy specialists in sports development. Many were started by existing sports professionals, such as Simon Kirkland’s ‘Sporting Structures’ (2002), Nikki Enoch’s ‘VAGA Associates’ (2003) and ‘Neil Allen Associates’ (2006).

Today consultancy specifically for sports centres is however quite different from the time of Torkildsen Pickering and L&R.  The arrival of trusts has meant that Local Authority officers are less ‘hands-on’. It can also be argued that with so much history and documentation available consultancy should not be needed. However, existing activity suggests it remains an active business sector, especially for the issues around strategic analysis and justifying and planning new replacement leisure centres. Examples of recent consultancy commissions confirm this. This may also reflect a loss of expertise within shrinking Local Authority staff structures.

Some specialist companies in other fields have moved into the leisure sector, such as Coussins Associates, from their marketing and communications base. Leisure can have a special attraction for those previously embroiled in the general and perhaps less exciting business and financial world. The concept of ‘associates’ across the consultancy scene has allowed new companies to assemble expertise across a wide range of sports  and research interests to address specific issues on a bespoke basis. Former Sport England and ‘early retired’ Local Authority officers have become such ‘associates’. In addition, some academic institutions have developed ‘commercial arms’, the most prominent being the Sports Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University and the Centre for Leisure Research at Edinburgh University.

9.6  Going forward to the 21st Century

It can be seen that by  2021, a significant level of sophistication had been achieved in the research, planning, design, operation and use of community sports and leisure centres. This Chapter, and the previous eight, lead us into a defining Chapter for the story – Chapter 10 ‘Centres in the 21st Century’.

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