Kingston Council (RBK) has agreed to provide financial support to its leisure centre provider and will help them reopen services in mid-August, but the future of the Kingfisher centre is still unknown.

At last week’s Response and Recovery Committee (July 30) councillors unanimously agreed to provide a package of financial support and contractual relief to Places Leisure for 2020/21 to cover both the closure during the peak of the pandemic and the reopening period.

The report noted that intervention by the council was “essential to ensure that these vital leisure services can reopen safely”.

UK Active, Community Leisure UK, Sport England and the Local Government Association have all warned that the national leisure and sporting infrastructure will be significantly impacted by the pandemic, with up to 48 per cent of public facilities at risk of permanent closure by the end of the year.

In a statement released by RBK on August 5, a council spokesperson said:

"Kingston Council has agreed an arrangement that will allow the borough’s leisure facilities to reopen this month.

"All customers will need to pre-book their visit via the Places Locker app or via the Places Leisure website to ensure they can enjoy their visit safely."

Included in the statement were the Weir Archer Athletics and Fitness Centre, which will reopen to athletics clubs who pre-book sessions from August 11, before a full reopening to the public on 24 August.

The Tolworth Recreation Centre and the Malden Centre (including swimming pool) will meanwhile also reopen to the public on 24 August.

The Kingfisher Centre, which closed in December 2019 due to structural issues, will be treated separately as it is not currently in a position to reopen.

Conservative opposition leader, Kevin Davis, expressed concern that the centre, and crucially its swimming pool, may need to be replaced, once the results of the next building survey come through.

He said: “There is a significant budget impact if we are not very careful around this whole thing.”

Officers and councillors said they agreed the council’s leisure offer was more important than ever to address social and health inequality after it was shown that obesity can worsen the effect of coronavirus on a person’s health.

Portfolio Holder for Business and Leisure, Cllr John Sweeney said:

"I’m delighted that we’ll soon be able to welcome Kingston’s residents - along with the many sports and athletics clubs - back to our local gyms, swimming pools and race tracks.

"I know that many have been frustrated by the delay. I thank them for their patience and look forward to welcoming them back."

The total cost of reopening leisure centres in the borough is not yet clear.

Places Leisure have said they will have to spend more on physical adjustments, cleaning, and staff training, as well as account for reduced income for at least six-12 months due to restricted capacity and lower footfall needed to maintain social distancing.

The council report simply noted that Places Leisure requested that the council met a “significant proportion” of its closure costs.

Following negotiation, the final closure costs for the period March to July 2020 have been reduced by 35 per cent compared to the initial submission.

After a request from Places Leisure for advance payments to support its cashflow position while income levels are reduced, the council has proposed terms upon which a proportion of the monthly sum may be paid in advance.

It has also proposed terms upon which the council’s liability will be subject to a cap.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government has also said that under the current arrangements the council is not able to recover from government any sums associated with the recommendations made in the council’s report.

The council extended its contract with Places Leisure in 2017 until 2026.

The total value of the contract is approximately £64 million and covers the management and operation of the Kingfisher Leisure centre, Malden Leisure Centre, Tolworth Recreation Centre, and Weir Archer Athletics and Fitness Centre.