Bowling alley in Bicester to permanently close as Cherwell District Council looks to save money at leisure centres

Cafeterias will also move to self-service vending, rather than having serving staff

By Andy Mitchell
Friday, 10th December 2021, 2:30 pm
Updated Friday, 10th December 2021, 2:32 pm
Bicester Leisure Centre where Bicester Bowl is based. Photo: Google Street View
Bicester Leisure Centre where Bicester Bowl is based. Photo: Google Street View

Cafes and a bowling alley are among the things set to be axed from leisure centres in Banbury and Bicester amid £500,000 of cuts planned by Cherwell District Council.

Four council-owned centres - Spiceball and Woodgreen in Banbury, Bicester Leisure Centre and Kidlington & Gosford Leisure Centre - are operated on behalf of the authority by Legacy Leisure, a partner of Parkwood Leisure.

Budget proposals for the financial year starting in April 2022 identify plans for Cherwell to save £500,000 through a “review (of the) long-term contract” and adjusting services “to reduce annual costs”, including making permanent the temporary closure of Bicester Bowl.

At a meeting of the Budget Planning Committee, a group that scrutinises and offers recommendations on proposed budgets, leader of the opposition Councillor Sean Woodcock (Lab, Banbury Ruscote) said: “With that sort of figure there must be some sort of change or reductions in provision. Clearly there is going to be some impact.”

Councillor Phil Chapman, lead member for leisure and sport, admitted “we cannot make this kind of saving without there being an effect” and explained how the cuts would be implemented.

“It is an open-book contract and that helps because everything in the partnership is transparent and can be negotiated,” he said.

“For example, if no one is using something at 7am and that is currently open, that is being reviewed. It is silly to do that so those things will stop.

“Another example, the cafeterias are going to turn into self-service vending rather than being supported by staff.

“It is all made up of bottom-up things but two blocks of that are in the building maintenance and the replacement of equipment.

“At the moment we put into a fund that is held jointly and we are going to do that differently.

“Equipment will always be replaced when necessary but we won’t automatically do that. You could argue that was happening a bit in the past in how the contract was being used.

“If we have got those timings wrong, we will be liable for putting forward the capital to fix things or replace them.”

Nicola Riley, assistant director for wellbeing at Cherwell District Council, added: “The service review has identified some areas. One of the most significant is the staffed cafes but (also) the tenpin bowling at Bicester, we are not going to reopen that because it requires too much subsidy. That will cease to happen as an activity.

“The focus has been on maintaining a leisure facility in each of our urban centres, to make sure that we did not have to close one, that we could get this saving and still provide that core provision of a swimming pool, swimming lessons, a gym and sports activity in a main hall. Nothing there is changing.

She added that equipment would always be fixed or replaced “straightaway” whenever “there is a health and safety need” and that while the council will no longer subsidise lesser-used services, whether they remain open for as long as they do now is a decision to be taken by the operator.