Yesterday we heard the very sad news that the Oasis Leisure Centre is set to close.
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. Closure is unacceptable.
In part the situation is complex. Yesterday, I did an impassioned BBC Wiltshire interview setting out my thoughts.
Firstly, like all sectors of the economy – there is the impact of Covid. Thankfully through a combination of support from the Government, Swindon Borough Council and in some areas the local Parish or Town Council, our leisure facilities will get through these unprecedented times. The challenge for the Oasis is making it financially viable during normal times.
Swindon Borough Council leased the Oasis site to Seven Capital, so they would be able to raise the investment to transform the Oasis into the Snowdome, part funded by the redevelopment of the site (including a cinema, restaurants and shops), as well as wider development on adjacent land. This scheme hasn’t progressed, with little or no expectation they can make the sums work. Whilst very disappointing, I suspect this doesn’t come as a surprise to many.
Without this investment into the Oasis site, the current operators GLL (who also run other leisure centres across Swindon) have not been able to make the Oasis financially viable and have confirmed they are withdrawing. Nothing is changing with any of the other leisure sites.
So what could be done?
As the former Lead Member for Leisure, Recreation & Culture on Swindon Borough Council prior to being an MP, and having served as the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sport & Leisure, I have a great deal of experience in the Leisure industry.
It’s clear that we need a sensible, pragmatic refresh of the Oasis site, that would address running costs and income, allowing it to become financially viable.
The current building is expensive to run (no surprise considering the age!), inefficient with lots of unused space and some areas simply not keeping up with changing customer demands. At its peak the Oasis was the most popular tourist attraction in Wiltshire. A reconfiguration of the whole site is required.
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.
All of this would take significant investment. The redevelopment of the site and adjacent land will release this investment.
This is in the hands of Seven Capital and Swindon Borough Council. Severn Capital need to speak up and reassure people that the Oasis will continue to operate. Failure to do so and Swindon Borough Council should make it crystal clear they will block any of Seven Capital’s future development proposals and take back control of both the Oasis and any redevelopment in this area.
Put simply, Swindon Borough Council should not allow Seven Capital to make a profit from the land unless they save the Oasis.
Myself, Robert Buckland MP and I am sure Councillors of all parties stand ready to make sure the Oasis is saved – closure is not acceptable.