New financial arrangement should ensure Brentwood Centre is ‘sustainable’

A new financial plan is being put together to ensure the long term viability of the Brentwood Centre.

A meeting will be held in private next week to agree a package of financial measures that is expected to ensure the Brentwood Centre can operate without support from Brentwood Borough Council.

The financial details of the package have not been released but are expected to have been influenced by previous decisions.

Brentwood Leisure Trust manages Brentwood Leisure Centre and the council’s community halls, in addition to using the premises for its own purposes.

The trust owed £343,390 to the council on March 31, 2020.

Brentwood councillor Keith Parker said: “The fact is it has not been sustainable for a number of years because it has always relied on the borough to bail it out.”

Brentwood Leisure Trust was formed in 2004 to take over the responsibility of running the Brentwood Centre from the local authority.

In 2010, it took on the responsibility of a further nine community buildings in Brentwood.

In 2018, the council agreed to phase out the management fee paid to Brentwood Leisure Trust over two years and to provide loan financing to ensure the trust has sufficient cash to invest in improving facilities that benefit the community, increase usage and promote community health.

The details included approving  an improvements loan of £180,000 for a term of five years, following a two-year payment and interest holiday.

The decision also spelled out  a two-year  payment and interest holiday on the existing loan (approximately £163,000 outstanding by March 31, 2018) and its repayment over a term of five years, following the two-year payment holiday.

Councillors also at the same time decided to reduce the payment of a community halls management fee to the trust by £100,000, to £40,800, from April 1, 2018, and withdraw it completely from April 1, 2019.

The council said this was an “invest to save” opportunity for the council and set out a way forward for the council to save money and for the trust to be able to invest in improvement works that will in turn increase facilities available to the community, community health and also its own income levels.

The agreements being set out next week are expected to be separate from a longer term vision for the Brentwood Centre, including investing as much as £5million into creating a major seven-pitch football hub.

The plans for seven pitches at the Brentwood Centre – two of which will be all weather 3G surfaces – are part of the Brentwood Borough Council leisure strategy.

The strategy also includes the potential multi-million pound revamp of the Brentwood Centre and its plans for King George’s playing fields, which it has pledged more than £7million of investment.

Under the plans for the football hub, the Brentwood Town FC stadium may move to accommodate a revamped Brentwood Centre and to future-proof the area in case of any A12 widening that may take place in the future.

Ideas submitted to Brentwood Council suggested Brentwood Town’s main pitch and stadium will move to land closer to Hatch Road, while two 3G pitches and five grass pitches will be built on land closer to the A12.

A feasibility report from 4global Consulting indicates that the Football Foundation sees the project to be of “significant strategic value” to the delivery of the organisation’s priorities in Essex, and as such would be prepared to commit £1.3million to the total £3.5million cost of the first phase of the project, that would also see new changing rooms and a 200-space car park.

Brentwood Council could contribute £1.5million towards this phase.

The shortfall would require to be identified from other funding sources.

It is thought the phase one element could generate around £30,000 a year.

Cllr Parker added: “We have got to work out a formula for the Brentwood Centre and in the long term turn it into a new venue.

“The borough council can’t be a backstop for forever.

“We have come up with a good formula and I think we can work from that position to go forward.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter