09:00AM, Friday 08 July 2016
The offer of a lifeline which would provide a temporary home to skating groups in Slough while their permanent home is refurbished has been criticised by Slough Borough Council.
Absolutely Ice, which attracts more than 140,000 users a year, is due to close in November to undergo a £7.7m refurbishment.
The decision has led to calls from users of the ice arena, in Montem Lane, for a temporary rink while the refurbishment works take place.
This week, charitable trust Slough Community Leisure (SCL) put forward a proposal in which it will stump up £400,000 for a temporary ice rink in the main sports hall at Montem Leisure Centre.
SCL runs Montem and Langley leisure centres and has the contracts for Absolutely Ice and Absolutely Ten Pin.
It believes it will be able to relocate other Montem sports hall users, allowing it to provide a temporary rink for ice skating groups – though it would not be large enough for Slough Jets to use it for ice hockey matches.
But SCL says it will only do this if it is awarded the contract to run the refurbished ice arena when it re-opens, allowing it to earn back its up-front investment.
Its contract to manage both Absolutely Ice and Absolutely Ten Pin on behalf of the council runs out in June next year.
A council report states that in return for providing a temporary ice rink, SCL wants the council to agree to a number of conditions.
These include providing SCL with a 10-year management contract for the operation of Absolutely Ice, and a 20-year management agreement and 50-year lease for Absolutely Ten Pin in Bath Road.
The council said it is being ‘publicly strong-armed’ into accepting unrealistic terms and conditions and the leisure contracts asked for ‘could run into millions of pounds’.
A council statement said: “SCL’s proposal to fund a temporary ice rink is littered with caveats that disadvantage Slough leisure services and users; including the transfer of valuable, taxpayer-funded community assets into their sole control for periods of up to 50 years with no return to the taxpayer or the council.
“The council remains committed to finding a solution that meets the needs of all ice users while being justifiable to taxpayers in Slough.”
The issue is due to be discussed by the council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday, July 14.
A report to the committee states SCL’s proposal would put the Montem Leisure Centre sports hall ‘out of use’ and ‘would cause irreparable damage’ to its floor.
It adds the council is currently in the process of renewing contracts for its facilities and that by agreeing with SCL’s proposal it could be met by a legal challenge from other companies which had already attended a ‘bidding day’.
A spokesman from SCL told the Express: “We are not looking for financial gains here, we are just looking to do the right thing.”
He added: “The proposal offered eliminates the need for large scale public investment to provide temporary ice at a time when we are being told budgets are tight.
“SCL has invested heavily into Slough Borough Council assets over the last 15 years and its proposals only seek to benefit its customers and staff and ensure the charity can reclaim its investment.”
The council has also been approached by a separate provider with a proposal for a temporary ice rink to cover the period of the arena’s closure which would cost the council £632,000.
Members of the overview and scrutiny committee will discuss all of the options before making its recommendations to cabinet.
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