Jim Parker: End game to deliver key facility that’s not reliant on council coffers

The Riviera International Conference Centre fitness centre

The Riviera International Conference Centre fitness centre - Credit: Archant

Jim Parker, editor of the Torbay Weekly

The Riviera International Conference Centre pool

The Riviera International Conference Centre pool - Credit: Archant

My suit seems to have shrunk as I have toiled away for the past 18 weeks with only Freddie the rocking horse for company in the play room of my home getting out editions of the new Torbay Weekly.

Believe it or not, I miss the gym and the swimming pool. I'm not alone feeling the strain of it all. Ask my trouser belt.

That's why places like the Riviera International Conference Centre are so vital, not necessarily due to its more fun-like pool but definitely when it comes to its gym which must have boasted hundreds of members before the enforced lockdown.

Parkwood Leisure, who also run the similarly-hit Torbay Leisure Centre over at Paignton, were about to take over at the RICC and invest a hefty sum of money in improving its facilities, including the leisure club provision and a new climbing attraction at the back of the building.

It was hoped the much-maligned conference and leisure centre could at last stand on its own two feet without the millions of pounds in council subsidies over the years going right back to the days before it was even built and that famous one-liner from then council leader Tony Key that the centre 'wouldn't cost the taxpayers a penny'!

With the virus came the closure of the RICC and the deal with Parkwood had to be put on hold.

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Now the council has had to put its hand in its pocket again to prevent the RICC doors staying closed for good and 60 people losing their jobs.

But there is still hope the 25-year lease deal between the council and Parkwood will still go ahead when this mess further eases.

Darren Cowell, deputy council leader and in charge of finance, said: 'We are in discussions with Parkwood Leisure with a view to them taking over the management contract as soon as possible.

'They did intend taking it on in April but that was deferred because of the crisis but we have started discussions about when they can start operating it.

'If we can get everything in place the sooner the better is the approach by both the council and Parkwood.'

He added: 'Their business model has been impacted by what has been allowed to reopen.

'The events side of life across the UK has been depleted. We are not expecting events like Christmas dos being booked in the current climate.

'It will be more around the gym and getting that up and running again.

'What we are exploring is investment in the pool. We might bring forward those works and undertake those repairs and improvements to open the pool.

'It would make sense if it is practicable to do these repairs and other projects next to the pool area. This is subject to discussions with Parkwood. We are confident of achieving that.'

The plan is for a phased opening. Cllr Cowell said: 'A lot of it will depend on Government guidance.

'The leisure sector is under such financial pressure. It is the one sector that has received little or no Government support. We have heard some significant announcements around arts and culture.

'A funding package is needed from the Government.'

He revealed the arms-length company running the centre was closed at the start of April.

The council has put in an interim management board just to caretake the facility.

Cllr Cowell said: 'Without the council giving support to the interim board there would have been a risk to the centre.

'We believe it is right to help it through the difficult time. It is an important asset to the wider community.

'But money is finite and it is not a bottomless pit.'

He said the end game was to deliver a key facility that is not reliant on council coffers.

Tony Key, where are you?