Yesterday we saw a very welcome announcement from Swindon Borough Council as they seek to secure the future of the Oasis.
As I have previously written, most people in Swindon have a cherished memory of the Oasis. It is an iconic, much loved, well used and integral part of Swindon’s heritage and leisure provision.
I want to pay tribute to all of the residents and the Save Oasis campaign group who have made it crystal clear how important the Oasis is. As a local resident, the former Lead Member for Leisure, Recreation & Culture on Swindon Borough Council and having served as the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sport & Leisure; I absolutely share the passion to save the Oasis – closure would be unacceptable. That said, this is a very complex situation – with much to navigate.
Whilst attentions have been focused on the aspiration to secure the Snowdome, and more recently the immediate challenges of Covid-19 – now everyone is solely focused on securing a viable, sustainable future for the Oasis.
Leisure centres lose money, some more than others. In recent years, the running costs of the Oasis were increasing, reflecting the age of the facilities with much-needed maintenance and repairs. At the same time, income will have been falling due to a combination of tiring facilities and changes in leisure demands. For example, fewer people wanting to use the sports hall for traditional sports such as badminton. This was unsustainable, and ultimately why the operator GLL was unable to continue.
I previously set out that we need a sensible, pragmatic refresh of the Oasis site, that would address running costs and income, allowing it to become financially viable. At its peak the Oasis was the most popular tourist attraction in Wiltshire. A reconfiguration of the whole site is required, but this is certainly possible.
Updating the swimming, gym and football facilities all would help increase usage and income. Also, during the peak times such as the summer holidays, the pool can often be at full capacity, so they should add an outdoor adventure play park – this would have low operating costs and would significantly increase income. The current site footprint could be changed, removing the unused, wasted spaces and investment in the equipment would crucially reduce running costs.
These works would come at a cost, but we have an opportunity. The adjacent land to the Oasis is due to be developed, this will release profit which would either cover, or go a long way to covering the investment costs.
The challenge though is often profit from developments are released at the end, not the beginning. This could have led to many years delay, putting any hopes of saving the Oasis at real risk as well years of residents missing out.
Therefore, it was very welcome news that Councillor Russell Holland proposed that SBC would offer £5m upfront for investment, linked to the profit of the adjacent development. This would help bridge the funding gap and give the Oasis every chance to be saved.
All too often political parties disagree, but I am greatly encouraged that there is a willingness across the political spectrum to work together to make sure the Oasis is not only saved, but has sufficient investment to have a long-term, viable future.
I will do all I can to support this.
Hear me talk about the future of the Oasis Centre here: https://www.justintomlinson.com/news/article/swindon-advertiser-column-oasis-leisure-centre-colsure-unaccaptable