Oxford City Council is investing £10.9 million to cut carbon in public leisure centres in Oxford as part of the City Council’s plans to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
The initial plan was to replace the heating systems at all six public leisure sites, including the Ice Rink and Rose Hill Community Centre.
Over the summer, work has been undertaken to understand in detail what this involves and has indicated that the cost and complexity of replacing heating systems at all six sites is not achievable within the approved budget.
Reducing the carbon footprint
Leisure centres contribute around 40% of the City Council’s carbon footprint, with swimming pools among the most energy-intensive as they must be kept at a constant temperature.
The upgrade work will see gas boilers replaced with heat pumps that transfer heat from the air or water, which will cut carbon emissions from the council’s operations as a whole by around 21%.
The work is part of the council’s commitment to tackling the climate crisis and become a Zero Carbon Council - aiming for an average yearly cut in its carbon emissions of 10% every year until 2030.
The council’s main focus of activity to achieve this will be to effect a rapid switch to decarbonising its power for heating systems across its buildings and its fleet vehicles. In the most recently published figures, for 2019/20, the council’s leisure centres reduced their carbon emissions by 3.5%. These decarbonisation investments will cut leisure centre emissions by more than half.
The council investment in decarbonising leisure centres also supports its wider goal of achieving a Zero Carbon Oxford by 2040, bringing the benefit of climate action to communities that may be financially excluded from many other carbon reduction initiatives.
The City Council aims to ensure that all communities benefit from action on climate change. By reducing the carbon footprint of these leisure centres, it secures the long-term future of the centres to provide valuable leisure spaces across the city.
Funding the upgrade work
The funding was awarded by the government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Fund and was announced earlier this year.
The funding under this programme has been awarded to be spent by the end of March 2022. Given the cost of the project, the City Council has committed to completing all the work in this timeframe to take advantage of the government funding.
Minimising disruption to services
The upgrade work will require sites to be partially or fully closed for certain periods, and the council is working closely with leisure partner Fusion Lifestyle and the contractors to minimise the disruption to leisure centre provision across the city. The work at Hinksey Outdoor Pool will take place during normal winter closure.
Work will be carried out in phases so that leisure centre members can use other facilities if their local site is closed.
Timetable of works
Preliminary work for the decarbonisation programme has already begun to better understand the complexity of the task. Contractors for the main work have been appointed, and work is expected to start in the next month.
The overall project work is expected to be phased, with each leisure centre aiming to keep as much service open as possible during the work. It will also be phased across the sites to minimise the number of centres that need to close at any one time.
Longer opening hours and increased capacity at other sites, and hiring temporary boilers and air handling units are options being explored to reduce the impact on customers.
Leisure centre availability will be kept up to date on the council’s website oxford.gov.uk/greenerleisure and on the individual leisure centre websites.
Working with community partners
The council has worked extensively with community representatives in the run-up to this project to understand the needs of different groups and keep them informed as plans develop.
The Leisure Partnership Board includes representatives from sports clubs, older leisure users, disability groups, Fusion Lifestyle, councillors and council officers and has been a key forum for discussing the impact of the programme on leisure sports and wellbeing users.
“Leisure centres provide essential services for our residents’ wellbeing, but they are currently a big contributor to the council’s carbon footprint. These works will reduce Oxford City Council’s own carbon footprint by more than a quarter which is vital as we work towards a zero carbon council and a zero carbon Oxford. This will be good for residents’ wellbeing as well as the planet. We all need to play our part in tackling the climate crisis and I’d ask residents for their support and patience while we help get our leisure centres fit for a low carbon city.”
—Councillor Tom Hayes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford
“The decarbonisation programme will secure the low-carbon future of our public leisure centres. We are committed to providing high-quality leisure facilities to provide exercise and wellbeing opportunities for residents. Our centres are in the heart of the communities where they are needed and offer affordable membership and discounts.”
—Councillor Mary Clarkson, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Tourism