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Five Acres Update from Leader of the Council Tim Gwilliam

We have been provided with Gloucestershire Rural Community Council’s (GRCC) report on the recent consultation activity undertaken in respect of the Five Acres site. GRCC were commissioned by the project Design Consultants, Pick Everard (PE), to undertake the consultation, a key strand of the work that PE have been asked to complete. Looking at that report and the comments made by individuals and organisations it is clear that while we can have confidence that the proposals we are working on are sound and in line with community aspirations. It’s clear also that the community retain their wider ambitions for the site outside of the initial Levelling up funding and programme.

As a Council we too share those wider ambitions and now seems an appropriate time to re-affirm what is being done now and what we wish to do in the future.

We achieved the long held ambition of bringing the former college site into the Council’s ownership in 2021. This followed the transfer of the former college playing fields to West Dean Parish Council. With these key assets in local public ownership it was possible to start planning in earnest to deliver something at Five Acres.

At around the time the district council acquired the Five Acres site, the Government announced a funding stream under the title of ‘Levelling Up’. Our review of that funding opportunity was that it fitted very clearly with our aspirations for the district as set out in our Corporate Plan. We went through an exercise to evaluate submissions from across the district and make a bid for funding under the scheme.

Our bid for Levelling Up funding  (LUF)included around £9m toward redevelopment of the district and parish council owned land at Five Acres. We did so because the time for submission was short and we had to be in a position to demonstrate certainty of delivery to be in with a chance of securing an award of funds. We have not lost any of our ambition for the wider Five Acres site but the opportunity to gain significant grant funding was something we did not want to forego.

Accordingly our LUF bid was specific in developing dryside sport and leisure facilities through the repurposing of the Speedwell building, an additional four court sports hall, refurbished tennis courts and 3G sports pitch. Having successfully secured funding for the site, we cannot divert those monies to any other project. The LUF  is also time sensitive so we have to get on with those elements and that is where officers' efforts have, quite rightly, been concentrated. But again I stress that doesn’t diminish our ambition for the wider area, but successful delivery of what we have funding for now gives us something to build upon.

There are a number of key points arising from the consultation I would like to address.

We do have an ambition to deliver a swimming pool on the site.

It cannot be part of the LUF and we cannot get grant funding for a pool from lottery or sports grants because of the proximity of other pools, in Lydney, Cinderford and Monmouth.

The costs of a new pool are attached including what the cost of borrowing the money from the Public Works Board would be to the Council.

These costs currently make borrowing the money for a pool unviable and any proposal would simply not receive Council Support. One of our key corporate priorities as a council is to Deliver great services through achieving financial sustainability. To achieve this all our ambitions for the district, including anything at Five Acres, are that they should at least ‘wash their face’ in financial terms. That means, we have to be able to afford them and not increase the cost to the public. We will continue to explore all available funding streams and grants to support our ambitions for Five Acres. But our delivery in respect of the current funding has to take priority. Being able to deliver what we planned will put us in a better place for any future funding submissions.

The old college and leisure buildings were inspected by FODDC upon taking ownership last Autumn. They were, as expected, all in a state of extreme disrepair except the Speedwell building. They presented a serious risk to the Council in the event that someone got into the buildings and hurt themselves. Homes England avoided this risk with 24 hour security and fencing. The cost of such security to the Council would be completely unviable. It was therefore imperative that the risk, from buildings that were not fit for purpose and were to be demolished, was removed as quickly as possible.

That demolition and the removal of much of the risk is now complete. Asbestos in those buildings, a significant barrier in any redevelopment proposals, has been removed as part of the demolition work meaning that the site is now safe for future building work.

The dryside sporting facilities, and the regeneration of Speedwell will proceed and we will examine the suggestions and comments made during the consultation process adapting the scheme to reflect them where we can.

Now for the future aspirations

We aim to work with all local partners including the local school trust to develop the athletics track so that we can deliver quality athletics provision in the district. The track is owned by the school so those conversations are paramount to us achieving that aim. It is our belief that by working together we can attract funding.

It is our aspiration to deliver the very best sports hall we are able to with the funding we have. We hope that will also enable the hall to be a multi use venue that may also be used for performances in a similar way to the old Forest of Dean Theatre. This will be cost specific and the current rate of inflation and building cost rises are not helpful but we are hopeful we can deliver such a hall.

We will deliver the greenest and most forward thinking development in terms of climate impact that we are able to achieve with the funding we have available

This regeneration and these improvements will bring in a return that could be used to fund borrowing for a pool. It won't however be enough, we will need to raise more.

That is why we want to examine all available options. This includes an idea for a partner linked hotel with a spa option that may bring further funding in to enable us to develop a pool.

In the coming months the Planning application that will be made will have on it only the things we have secured funding for, that being the dryside sports, regeneration of Speedwell, tennis courts and 3G pitch. Please be assured that our ambition does not stop there, but we do have to deliver what we said we would when asking for the Levelling Up funding.

Further additions and planning applications will be made as we secure funding and tie down proposals, it will be a fluid and developing regeneration.

Contact Information

Forest of Dean Communications Team

media@fdean.gov.uk