Settlement reached on Bricket Wood sports centre

A SETTLEMENT for the early termination of the council’s lease of Bricket Wood sports centre has finally been agreed.

The district council will have to pay �550,000 to owners HSBC on top of the thousands of pounds already spent on maintenance since the centre closed its doors to the public in March this year.

But the council insisted that the settlement figure is significantly less than what the council would have had to pay to keep the lease until it expired in March 2014 which was estimated at a minimum of �1.4 million plus dilapidation costs.

It also emerged this week that the council is continuing to negotiate with operators Leisure Connection regarding the settlement of their obligations under the lease.

The Herts Advertiser exclusively revealed in October that the council was still trying to negotiate its way out of the lease and that it was in line for a hefty repair bill as the terms of the contract stipulated that the leisure centre needed to be returned in the same condition it was in when it was first taken on.

The council took the decision to close the facility in March 2009 which enabled it to provide 12 months notice to HSBC for the termination of the lease – but it took more than 20 months to reach an agreement.

And despite the leisure centre being closed for the past 10 months, the council was contractually obliged to pay for maintenance and security which has amounted to more than �167,000.

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The council, which appointed consultants Drivers Jonas Deloitte, insisted it needed to close the facility because it needed major redevelopment work or significant investment to maintain it in its current condition, as well as the fact it had been performing “very poorly” in financial and usage terms. It also needed the money saved for the new Westminster Lodge redevelopment.

This week the council said mothballing the centre was sensible because it is a “vulnerable and high risk” site with the potential for extensive vandalism which would have fallen to the council to pay for. It also said that the pool had to remain full because it needed to be handed back in an operational capacity and emptying it would have put the building at risk due to the reduction in pressure.

Cllr Anthony Rowlands, the council’s portfolio holder for sport and leisure said: “�550,000 towards dilapidations plus the �167,000 which the council has had to spend to maintain security and basic maintenance since March, whilst negotiations proceeded, is a great deal of money. However, it is much less than the council would have spent over the remaining four years of the lease – �1.4m as a minimum – had the centre remained open.

“In the final year Bricket Wood was open, the council was subsidising each visit to Bricket Wood to the tune of �5.47. This is just not sustainable. Furthermore, at the end of the negotiations the settlement is less than half of what the owners HSBC were seeking at the outset.

“Overall, the decisions taken have saved the council over �700,000 and that’s not counting the dilapidations payment that would have been imposed anyway at the end of the lease. As pledged, savings on Bricket Wood can be channelled towards funding the re-development of Westminster Lodge.”