Indoor Leisure Facilities - Draft Strategy & Action Plan

Ended on the 17 January 2021
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(1) 2.0 Strategic Context


This section sets out the relationship between: the national strategic planning framework; the Council's Local Plan policies for indoor sport and leisure facilities; the Council's five year plan; the Sport England strategy and strategic outcomes model; the Sport England planning guidance for developing an evidence base; and the Central Bedfordshire demographic profile and participation in sport and physical activity.

These documents set the strategic context and framework for developing the Council's indoor leisure facilities strategy.

National Planning Policy Framework

The National Planning Policy Framework was published in 2012 and updated in February 2019. It sets out the Government's planning policies for England and how these should be applied. It provides a framework within which locally-prepared plans for housing and other development can be produced.

Paragraphs 96 and 97 of the updated guidance set out:

'Access to a network of high quality open spaces and opportunities for sport and physical activity is important for the health and well-being of communities. Planning policies should be based on robust and up-to-date assessments of the need for open space, sport and recreation facilities (including quantitative or qualitative deficits or surpluses) and opportunities for new provision. Information gained from the assessments should be used to determine what open space, sport and recreational provision is needed, which plans should then seek to accommodate. (Paragraph 96)'

'Existing open space, sports and recreational buildings and land, including playing fields, should not be built on unless:(a) an assessment has been undertaken which has clearly shown the open space, buildings or land to be surplus to requirements; or (b) the loss resulting from the proposed development would be replaced by equivalent or better provision in terms of quantity and quality in a suitable location; or (c) the development is for alternative sports and recreational provision, the benefits of which clearly outweigh the loss of the current or former use (Paragraph 97).'

The indoor leisure facilities strategy assessment of need and action plan (sections 3 and 4) follows the national planning guidance.

Central Bedfordshire Council Local Plan Policies for Indoor Leisure Facilities

The Central Bedfordshire Pre Submission Local Plan 2019 - 2035 (February 2018) sets out the Council planning policy for indoor leisure facilities.

Policy HQ4: Indoor Sport and Leisure Facilities

Central Bedfordshire Council will protect indoor sports and leisure facilities from development. Redevelopment of these sites for other purposes will only be appropriate in exceptional situations, in line with NPPF requirements.

Where they are lost to development, equal or better replacement provision within a reasonable proximity of the original facility must be delivered by the developer, or a contribution provided to the council to re-provide the facility where land has been identified which is suitable and available for that provision.

On new residential developments, the Council will require:

  • The provision of indoor sports and leisure facilities must have regard to the Leisure Strategy standards and facility requirements.
  • Developments to provide indoor sports and leisure facilities on site unless this is demonstrably inappropriate or impossible.
  • The enhancement and / or extension of existing facilities must have regard to the Leisure Strategy requirements, where the provision of indoor sports and leisure facilities is not on the development site. Where the priority facility for improvements is owned by Central Bedfordshire Council a contribution will be required from the developer to deliver the identified improvements.
  • On-site indoor sports and leisure facilities which are to be delivered by the developer to be designed and constructed in accordance with Sport England facility guidance, together with the facility guidance of the relevant National Governing Body for Sport (NGB).
  • Proposals for on-site indoor sports and leisure facilities to provide a management scheme which details the future ownership, management and maintenance of the site, and where the site is to be adopted commuted sums are to be paid for the maintenance of the facility.

The Leisure Facilities Strategy assessment of need, evidence base and action plan (sections 3 and 4) follows and adheres to the Council's planning policy and Policy HQ 4.

This new Chapter 1 of the Council's Leisure Strategy which is for indoor sports and leisure centre facilities will be adopted by the Council as a Supplementary Planning Document, to support the emerging Local Plan.

Central Bedfordshire Council Five Year Plan 2015 - 2020

The Central Bedfordshire Council five-year strategic plan 2015 - 2020 objectives are: to provide great resident services; improve the education and skills of residents; protect the vulnerable and improving wellbeing; create stronger communities; provide a more efficient and responsive council.

The stronger communities objectives aligns with the indoor leisure facilities strategy content, as it sets out the sports and leisure facilities that are required in existing and new communities to support residents of all ages to participate and lead an active and healthy lifestyle.

The Council's objective of creating strong communities, aligns with Sport England's commitment to triple the amount of money spent at targeting inactivity with a c£200 million investment fund proposed over the next three years.

Sport England Strategy and Central Bedfordshire Council

In May 2016, Sport England published its current five-year Strategy 'Towards an Active Nation' aimed at tackling inactivity. The new strategy sets out how Sport England will deliver against the five health, social and economic outcomes set out in the Government's 2015 Sporting Future strategy. There is a clear focus on tackling inactivity as the strategy recognises that more than one in four people in England (28%) do less than 30 minutes of physical activity a week.

There is a synergy here with the Central Bedfordshire vision - By 2020, Central Bedfordshire will be a place where people help each other and themselves. Our residents, including our young people, will aspire to build successful lives and create strong communities. Those who are able to work will enjoy good employment. And for those who may need help, volunteering will create opportunities for people of all ages. We will foster self-sustaining communities - where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential, regardless of their age. (Central Bedfordshire Council Five Year Plan 2015 - 2020).

Sport England Strategic Outcomes Model and Central Bedfordshire Council

In 2019 Sport England published guidance to assist local authorities to take a strategic approach to maximising the contribution that sport and physical activity makes to its local outcomes, it is called the Sport England Strategic Outcomes Model (SESOM).

The accompanying Assessment Report to the strategy, reviews where the Council is currently positioned, in meeting SESOM - it is a gap analysis. It analyses the Council's current strategic evidence base against Sport England's best practice guidance, identifies the strengths and weaknesses, and the steps that the Council will need to take in order to develop a new strategic approach in line with the new guidance.

The indoor leisure facilities assessment/strategy links very well with SESOM (Step two in SESOM -l Insight - Understand Your Community and Know Your Place and Step 3 Identify How the Outcomes Can Be Delivered Sustainably).

The major new leisure centre project proposals fit very well with SESOM - Steps 3 and 4 C- Commitment to Secure Investment and Commitment to Achieve Delivery). The Houghton Regis/Kingsland site project presents the Council with an example/opportunity to think differently about investment and the delivery of services in the future.

With collaboration between local partners, as well as within the Council with public health, education, asset management, leisure services and adult social care. Collaborative working with a focus on (1) co-location of services and facilities, (2) a combined objective of increasing physical activity levels and (3) regeneration of the area and creating a strong community.

This overall approach fits most well with stages 2 - 4 of SESOM and the detailed feasibility for the project should be developed within SESOM, if the council is considering approaching Sport England for investment.

Sport England Assessing Needs and Opportunities Guidance (ANOG)

In 2014 Sport England published guidance for developing a local assessment of need and evidence base for indoor sports and recreational facilities - it is called Assessing Needs and Opportunities Guidance (ANOG).

ANOG takes as its lead the NPPF first published in 2012 and is intended to provide detailed guidance to local authorities on how to develop a local evidence base for all types of sports and recreational facilities, indoor and outdoor. (Paragraphs 73 and 74 of the 2012 guidance).

ANOG has four stages of work as shown in Figure 2.1. The work for this project has followed the ANOG guide and this strategy report is stage 4 of ANOG - Application. Stages 1 - 3 are contained in the accompanying reports, the Assessment Report and the Issues and Options report.

Figure 2.1

Figure 2.1: Assessing Needs and Opportunities Guidance Sport England 2014

Central Bedfordshire Demographic Change and Sports and Physical Activity Participation

The demographic profile for Central Bedfordshire for the period 2019 - 2035 is based on five-year age bands for the whole population. The population forecasts show growth by Lower Super Output Area (LSOA) up to 2035. This applies the Office for National Statistics (ONS) 2014 Sub National Population Projections for Central Bedfordshire as their base. It then includes the detailed housing growth figures by ward to 2023, to allocate this growth to each Central Bedfordshire ward.

The key findings on demographic change are:

  • The 0 - 14 age group and where sport and physical activity participation first starts is projected to increase from 54,375 people in 2019 to 57,647 people in 2035, an increase of 3,272, a 6% increase between the two years.
  • The 15 - 34 age group and where the rate of sports and physical participation is highest is projected to increase from 64,484 people in 2019 to 69,283 people in 2035, an increase of 4,799 people, a 7.4% increase. This is the age range where sports participation and physical activity are at the highest. Lifestyle choice and deriving a health benefit from activity are big motivators for participation. The most popular indoor facility types for this age range are in order: swimming, health and fitness (gyms) and studios for dance/exercise classes.
  • The 35 - 59 age group has national average rates of participation and this age range is projected to increase from 100,912 people in 2019 to 110,198 people in 2035, an increase of 9,286 people, a 9.2% increase. The motivation for participation by this age range is recreational, family based activities and to derive a health benefit. The most popular indoor facilities for this age range are in order: health and fitness (gyms), swimming and studios for dance/exercise classes.
  • The 60 - 79 age group is projected to increase from 55,480 people in 2019 to 74,235 people in 2035, a 33.8% increase. Physical activity participation by this age range in physical activity is 1% - 2% of the population. Outdoor activities such as walking and outdoor bowls are more popular than indoor activities and the most popular indoor activities are swimming and indoor bowls.

It is evident that the scale of the total projected increase in the Central Bedfordshire total population 2019 - 2035 and the rate of change in each of the age bands is high. It will create increases in demand for indoor sports facilities, especially swimming pools, health and fitness facilities and studios.

Of greater significance is the impact any increase in the rate of indoor sports facilities participation by the resident population has on the demand for indoor sports facilities. It is evident that the bigger driver of increases in demand for facilities would come from an increase in the existing participation rate by the current population, not the projected increase in the population.

Predicting future changes in indoor sports participation is very challenging especially over a long-term period to 2035. The best guide is to review the trends in past participation by the Central Bedfordshire population, as measured by the Sport England Active People. This annual survey of adult participation had a consistent methodology over the ten years of the Active People surveys 2006 - 2016.

To these trends can be added the findings from Active Lives which replaced the Active People survey in 2017 and the findings from the first years of this annual survey. These findings are set out in extensive detail in the Assessment Report which is the evidence base for the Strategy.

The very significant and consistent finding is that the Central Bedfordshire population has (1) a high rate of participation, (2) this has increased consistently over the period of both surveys and (3) on all measures in the Active People surveys the central Bedfordshire rate of participation is higher than for East Region and England wide.

Facilities are of course only part of the explanation for increases in participation. It is however, evident the Council's commitment to invest in the new major leisure centre at Flitwick, the very extensive modernisation of Dunstable Leisure Centre and continued investment at Saxon Leisure Centre and its other centres, does create a modern, attractive and accessible range of indoor leisure facilities and contributes to sustained increases in participation.

As evidence of the trend in increased participation, the findings from the Active People survey 2006 - 2016, for a range of measure of participation and based on the benchmark measure of at least 20 minutes of activity at least once a week, is set out in Table 2.1. This includes the findings for East region and England wide.

Table 2.1: Rate of at least once a week adult participation in sport and physical activity Central Bedfordshire South East Region and England wide 2006 - 2016

Central Bedfordshire participation for at least once a week participation of 30 minutes duration at moderate intensity by adults (16+)

2006 Participation Rate (%) APS 1

2016 Participation Rate (%) APS 10

Once a week rate of participation all adults

Central Bedfordshire

East Region








Once a week rate of participation by gender

Central Bedfordshire Male

East Region Male

England Male

Central Bedfordshire Female

East Region Female

England Female













Swimming Pools and Sports Halls once a week participation

Central Bedfordshire

East Region








Swimming once a week participation

Central Bedfordshire

East Region








Non-participation in sport and physical activity

Central Bedfordshire

East Region









This section sets the strategic context for the Indoor Leisure Facilities Strategy. It sets out how the assessment of need and development of the evidence base has followed the NPPF guidance.

It sets out how the Central Bedfordshire Council business plan objectives and the Sport England Strategy and Strategic Outcomes Models align. This is especially relevant for the proposed Houghton Regis development project at Kingsland and how this could be developed corporately within the Council, to fit with the Sport England Strategic Outcomes Model, should the Council wish to pursue investment from Sport England.

This section also sets out the demographic change and findings on sports participation within central Bedfordshire and highlights the impacts of demographic changes on demand for the indoor leisure facilities.

Finally, this section sets out the evidence for the high and sustained increases in sports participation by the Central Bedfordshire population. Investment by the Council in indoor leisure centres has played its part in this high level of sports and physical activity participation.

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