EAST DEVON will face “difficult decisions” surrounding its leisure and sports facilities as it prepares to kick-off a review into what it can afford to keep running. 

It looks set to hire external consultants Strategic Leisure to explore what actions it might need to take to protect existing services. 

Liz Taylor, a consultant from the company, noted that the council had an “ageing stock of facilities” and that many were in schools, which “brings its own challenges.” 

She told East Devon’s leisure strategy delivery forum: “There’s also been recently an affordability issue with the leisure management contract with Leisure East Devon [which runs East Devon’s leisure centres for the council], with rising costs year-on-year. And also, we’ve got the delivery of new projects, such as sports pitches in Honiton and Exmouth, and the need to take forward the Cranbrook local delivery pilot programme, which is funded by Sport England. 

“At the recent peer review, the question was asked whether the council can realistically afford to deliver all these requirements from its strategy, and so we have been asked if we can help support the council in undertaking an options review of provision.” 

Ms Taylor said a series of workshops is planned to help councillors understand their options, with these covering how other local authorities are faring and what decisions they had made, as well as assessing East Devon’s existing leisure portfolio and considering options about how each facility could be run and managed. 

“There will be some difficult decisions to be made requiring all of us to look strategically at the district and how residents’ needs can best be served, without necessarily associating this with a policy of protecting all existing leisure assets at all costs,” she added. 

Councillor Sam Hawkins (Independent, Cranbrook) acknowledged the potential for “difficult conversations” following the review. 

Councillor Nick Hookway (Liberal Democrat, Exmouth Littleham) agreed that the council must be “prepared for some very difficult decisions” because of the economic climate. 

“There isn’t the disposable income to support our facilities,” he said. 

“We don’t have that level of spend, and we have an ageing population that is facing a rising cost of living and a reduced income, so we will have to look at this in a very black and white way.” 

The first workshop could take place before the end of the month, with five or six for councillors and council officers in three-four week intervals. 

Strategic Leisure said it could also conduct a benchmarking exercise to see whether fees charged in East Devon match those of similar local authorities. 

By Bradley Gerrard