(To receive an update from the Assistant Director, Operations and Leisure)
The Chair welcomed the Assistant Director, Operations and Leisure, Ms S McGrandle, to the meeting to provide an overview of the work undertaken in respect of leisure services and open spaces and to receive any feedback on further areas of focus which the Committee would like to consider.
The Assistant Director updated the Committee on the recent tender opportunity to appoint consultants to undertake the following work:
1. to renew the Council’s open spaces assessment
2. to complete a new indoor and outdoor sports assessment
3. to undertake a leisure feasibility study for the new Gungate proposal
She reported that whilst there were several expressions of interest there were no returns to the tender and feedback was being sought as to the reasons for this. The tendered work would inform the Local Plan and planning decisions. It was reported that the Council was engaging with the companies who had expressed interest, but had not tendered, to understand the reasons, and following that the Council would consider whether to retender the work with different timescales, or whether to pursue other options to deliver the Council’s requirements.
The Assistant Director reported on the impact of COVID on leisure services and open spaces, which was heavily impacted by indoor leisure facilities being closed and resulted in all Tamworth open spaces being heavily used. It was reported that street scene staff were impacted by requirements to isolate during the first lockdown, as well as revised working practices. Many volunteers supported at this time and worked with the Council. Following the gradual re-opening over the summer it was reported that there was still a heavier use of outside spaces and facilities than previously and accordingly work had been undertaken and was ongoing to ensure outside spaces were fit for purpose, including installing additional outdoor gym equipment in the Castle Grounds as well as providing additional information to support its use, installing table tennis tables, and additional picnic benches and benches and further the tennis courts in the Castle Grounds would be refurbished in the new year.
The volunteers at the seven local nature reserves in Tamworth had restarted activities from September 2021 and the Council was fully supporting these together with Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.
The cycle path networks in Tamworth, which was part of Staffordshire County Council highways network, was reported to be one of the most extensive in Staffordshire which was largely linked up throughout the town and it was reported that the County Council had offered to complete the missing links.
The Assistant Director reported that more events had been held outdoors over the last 12 months or so, including drive through cinema screening, outdoor theatre, food festivals and food markets, with a temporary outdoor roller rink planned for a week pre-Christmas.
The Assistant Director reported that Tamworth in Bloom would be back for 2022 and that this involved significant community involvement and that this planned to link in with the Commonwealth Games being held in the midlands in 2022.
The Assembly Rooms now had a cinema screen installed which would show daytime Christmas films and would be capable of delivering live screenings.
Overall, the work of the team had looked to adapt to what the local population wanted. The Assistant Director reported that the work being tendered would support looking at what the revised demographic in Tamworth wanted in terms of leisure and open spaces services and it was expected that the impact of COVID would be clear and this would help shape services locally.
The Committee commented and sought and received clarification in the following areas:
· the importance of promoting and supporting Tamworth by focussing on activities around hospitality, leisure and heritage, and the importance of installing benches to support the use of the outside space.
· the importance of publicity when organising live events.
· the Committee welcomed the work to connect the cycle paths and highlighted that it would be important to ensure that all users, cyclists and pedestrians, considered other users on the networks. Clarification was sought any consultation which had taken place with local cycle groups and it was confirmed that this would be undertaken as part of the sports assessment activities.
· The work of the outdoor team was praised, including the implementation of the new initiatives.
· It was agreed that the work which had been put out to tender would be likely to play an important role in shaping the strategic leisure offer locally and as such the Committee would welcome a further update from the Assistant Director on how this work would be taken forward following the lack of any tenders being received.
· Whether consideration had been given to seeking Green Flag status for parks in the town to help support leisure tourism. It was reported that this had been applied for this previously, and that it could be reconsidered, although the local nature reserves were already designated and if correctly marketed, these would support the leisure offer significantly.
· Whether consideration could be given to re-introducing trim tracks to Tamworth’s parks. The Assistant Director reported that there were conversations with local clubs to support schemes such as this, and similar schemes were planned as part of work around the community woodland, on open space on the former golf course.
· It was highlighted that as a borough Tamworth’s obesity levels were the highest in Staffordshire and activities to address this would be important. It was noted that the risk assessments undertaken for the cardiac gym had highlighted that the current building and the vulnerability of the users indicated that this could not re-open in its current format.
· What events and activities were planned for the Jubilee and Commonwealth Games where it was confirmed that events were planned which would tie in to the Tamworth in Bloom work and engaging and working with local communities.
· In terms of the local nature reserves it was reported that the council works with Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, and in certain areas additional volunteers were sought, as some volunteers had not returned following the pandemic. However, a new initiative involving younger people as Wildlife Rangers had been launched.
· Further details were sought on Tamworth in Bloom campaign and the long term vision for this given the changing demographic for Tamworth. The Assistant Director reported that Tamworth in Bloom was not all about the flowers and whilst the planting did aim to ensure that the town looked attractive for visitors, there was significant community engagement as part of Tamworth in Bloom and the judging route extended outside the town centre and involved the Community Fire Station and other community groups. There would be sustainable planting in many areas. Work on the nature reserves was a key part, including river re-profiling projects, boardwalk improvements, meadow creation, and this supported the town’s success in the campaign. The evolution going forwards would be into what would be more sustainable.
· Requested that consideration be given for the future evolution of the town centre planting, in particular the Castle Ground beds, to include more sustainable planting and engaging with the public around this.
· Whether planting could be considered for additional areas of Tamworth, where it was reported that for all additional planting there were additional maintenance requirements and to extend into areas could be possible with community support from the areas.
The Committee thanked the Assistant Director for her attendance.