2024 community share offer
2024 community share offer

ANALYSIS COMMUNITY & SOCIETY

£1+ million for Wonford community hub project development but £7 million build finance not yet found

City council presented £750,000 'feasibility proposal' as progression of existing plans despite having to start again after three years to cut costs, with Exeter City Living awarded £550,000 project contract.

Exeter city council Sport england local delivery pilot Exeter city living

An exhibition of outline plans to refurbish and extend Wonford Community & Learning Centre and Wonford Sports Centre, combining them into a single Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub, has confirmed that finance for the expected £7 million construction costs has yet to be found.

The project, which was first mooted nearly nine years ago and will only be completed by autumn 2026 if funding is agreed this summer, will have cost well in excess of £1 million to put together. Contracts worth more than £550,000 have been awarded to Exeter City Living, the council’s failed subsidiary company, as part of project development.

Exeter City Council currently hopes that Sport England will fund most of the refurbishment and extension costs, attracting other investors to meet the shortfall, but says it will need to secure planning consent first, with an application for full planning permission expected in May.

The council had to restart project development in spring 2022, scrapping plans to demolish and rebuild the complex it had proposed three years earlier as part of its Exeter Live Better & Move More Draft Built Facilities, Playing Fields, Pitches, Play Areas, Parks And Green Spaces strategy.

It nevertheless presented a “feasibility proposal” asking councillors to spend £750,000 on project development as a progression of its existing plans, and has stuck to the same continuity narrative since despite making major changes to cut costs.

Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub continuity narrative graphic

Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub continuity narrative graphic. Image: Space & Place.

The idea of improving the Wonford facilities to create “Wonford Inclusive Sport Hub” (WISH) was first raised in a May 2015 consultancy report commissioned by the city council which explored “proposals for changes and improvements to the existing buildings”.

The following year, ownership of Wonford Community & Learning Centre was transferred from the county council to the city council as part of the closure of several Exeter youth centres.

Then in 2018 the city council created a £3 million budget to fund an “interim plan for consolidating and investing in existing built sports and leisure facilities” while also confirming the permanent closure of Clifton Hill sports centre.

At the same time plans to “reposition Wonford Sports Centre as a community hub where sport and physical activity can be used to develop community health and wellbeing opportunities” were being developed by Parkwood Leisure, then the centre operator, to “contribute to the priorities set out in the Sport England Local Delivery Pilot programme”.

The programme, which had begun earlier that year, aims to address health inequalities that obstruct access to sport and physical activity. Initially funded with £100 million of National Lottery money over four years, it was focussed in twelve pilot areas across the country, with the £4.7 million Exeter and Cranbrook pilot delivered under the Live & Move banner.

Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub option one plan

Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub option one plan. Image: Space & Place.

In February 2019, the city council announced “an innovative, new-build integrated community health and wellbeing centre to replace the existing Wonford sports and community centres” as part of its draft Built Facilities, Playing Fields, Pitches, Play Areas, Parks And Green Spaces strategy.

It said the “flagship” development would be “designed with the local community, building on the aspirational proposals put forward in 2016” [sic], citing a 2018 indoor sports facilities review by another council consultant. A site masterplan and business case were to be prepared during a public consultation on the draft strategy that followed.

Consultation feedback was published in June, accompanied by four more consultancy reports and a revised, final version of the strategy.

The council said the Wonford site master plan and business case, neither of which had been produced as planned, would now be prepared. A “blueprint and site master plan” would be ready by December 2019, but no deadline was given for the new hub’s business case.

Extensive stakeholder feedback on the plans was also published, including a prescient comment from Exeter Civic Society: “The sports facilities and community hall at Wonford were purpose built in the mid-1980s so are only about 30 years old, and have many years life left in them.

“It should be perfectly feasible to adapt and refurbish these facilities to achieve the integrated community and wellbeing centre that is suggested. This will be achieved at much less cost than building new.”

Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub option two plan

Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub option two plan. Image: Space & Place.

Another three consultancy reports were commissioned for a follow-up meeting focussed on the Wonford facilities six months later, in December 2019.

One found that “there was clearly a perception from some local stakeholders that ‘nothing had happened’ as a result of the WISH consultation”, adding “a key reason for this was the lack of clear feedback to the community about what would happen next”.

It nevertheless concluded that the earlier consultation had “laid some of the groundwork and was a starting point for the current engagement process with the local community on the potential for a new health and wellbeing centre”.

The accompanying council report proposed the preparation of an outline business case for the new Wonford hub, including “indicative sketches, layouts, designs and building and running costs” but did not mention the twice-promised, now due, “blueprint and site master plan” or that it had decided to produce a business case for the hub twice before.

It said it would complete a design brief by July 2020 and “develop the outline business case into a more detailed proposal”, a process which would be co-ordinated by Exeter City Living. A full business case would then be brought back for approval by councillors “by December 2020”.

Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub option three plan

Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub option three plan. Image: Space & Place.

By March 2020 Exeter City Living was acknowledging in private that the developing pandemic meant its July reporting deadline might “slip”. It nevertheless said it was getting on with the preparation of a “full business case for the new centre to demonstrate its financial viability and sustainability long-term”.

An online survey followed in July, then another in October on various design options for new replacement buildings.

Four were presented, with varying layouts. All included a cafe, youth club and gym with outdoor facilities for skateboarding, climbing, football and other games plus bike parking and a plaza. All also provided accommodation for Wonford Green Surgery, intending its relocation from the corner of Burnthouse Lane so its current site could be sold for redevelopment.

Option one additionally included a two-court sports hall with a permanent stage, option two the same sports hall with a separate spinning studio, option three replaced them both with a four-court sports hall and option four kept the four-court sports hall and added a spinning studio.

A fifth design option was also then added, in response to survey feedback, which adapted option four to provide a full-sized sports hall. No drawing of this option appears to be available.

A subsequent survey results summary said some residents had expressed concern that “this approach would result in the community being pushed out by citywide sports use”, but added that “providing some sports use is part of the financial model that will contribute to viability”.

Overall, it said, the community supported option five.

In January 2021, a month after the full business case for the new hub was supposed to be ready, the council said business modelling was under way but would not be complete for “about a year”.

Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub option four plan

Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub option four plan. Image: Space & Place.

Thirteen months later, in February 2022, the council published a press release headed: “Plans progress to create a new Health and Wellbeing Hub in Wonford”.

It was a trail for a “feasibility proposal” due before the council Executive committee the following week. The proposal, presented in a remarkably slight report, was to spend £750,000 “to progress to the next workstage” of the Wonford hub project.

This was to include “further detailed feasibility” work “towards full planning consent for the redevelopment of the existing Wonford community and sports centre facilities”. The council described the three years it had spent on the project since February 2019 as its “initial” stage, skating through the six workstreams the new funding was to pay for in less than 400 words.

It also said the money would be used partly for “project management capacity through Exeter City Living, commissioning architectural and other technical input to lead to planning submission” but did not say that the resulting contract would be worth £460,000 + VAT to the company.

It said that all the work, including the submission of a full planning application, “is expected to take 12 to 14 months to complete”, which would have meant the end of March 2023.

The only mention of a business case was the finance director’s warning that if the council wanted “to proceed further, there will need to be a detailed business case identifying sources of capital funding to deliver the project, including any borrowing requirement” with any such business case “expected to assess the costs of borrowing against the revenue benefit that the project delivers”.

He added: “If there is a gap in resources, it is expected that the business case will identify ways of addressing this shortfall”.

The report didn’t say how much had already been spent on project development. And it didn’t say that all the work that had taken place so far had been based on the assumption that the existing buildings would be demolished in favour of a “flagship new-build”, but that now the council was instead assuming refurbishment and extension of the existing buildings was all it could afford.

Nor did it include the outline refurbishment and extension plans which had been produced by project architects Space & Place four months earlier and labelled “option six”.

Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub option six plans

Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub option six plans. Image: Space & Place.

The council was nevertheless privately admitting to stakeholders that it had gone back to the drawing board to cut costs because the “new build would run the risk of not being financially possible” and was instead pursuing what it called an “extension and improvement” approach.

It also admitted that this option had not been “developed during the feasibility stage” and so would require “further surveys and exploratory work”, meaning it would now take take another “circa three and a half years” to complete the project.

A Spring 2022 Wonford Community & Learning Centre newsletter was more direct. It said the council had “scrapped plans to demolish the community centre and sports centre and replace them with a new building incorporating the GP surgery”, adding that it was “now looking into the possibility of refurbishing the two centres and replacing the old changing rooms between them with a café”.

By October the council was acknowledging in public that it needed to “secure external investment to deliver the Wonford Community Wellbeing hub”, even with its scaled-back plans.

Then this time last year, following another consultancy report, it emerged that “an initial draft business plan for the hub facility” was finally being prepared. The council confirmed this in August, saying a “formal business case is being developed to identify the capital and revenue costing models for the building” with the project getting “closer to planning in late 2023”.

Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub option seven plan

Wonford Community Wellbeing Hub option seven plan. Image: Space & Place.

A recent council press release promoting the “latest designs” for the hub nevertheless says that “there is still a long way to go” and that it still needs “to secure the necessary funding”. We might call these outline designs option seven, as they differ again from the option six drawings.

There’s apparently still money in the project development pot, if a three-minute animated “flythrough” produced to promote last week’s public exhibition of the plans is anything to go by. But the question remains whether Sport England will fund most, if not all, of the capital cost of the refurbishment and extension, and then whether other investors can be found to cover the rest.

Sport England’s Local Delivery Pilot programme was significantly extended last year, with £35 million of a total of £250 million additional lottery and treasury funding reserved for distribution between the twelve pilot areas, now to be renamed “Place Partnerships”.

The council has not yet asked for the cash, but its executive committee intends to discuss an application for Place Partner status, and three years’ accompanying funding, at the beginning of next month.



Recent stories
Howell Road garage student block illustrative elevation

NEWS  ⁄  PLANNING & PLACE

Howell Road garage for sale a week after student block redevelopment plans granted at appeal

Developer denied he would 'spin in and spin out and take my profit' at planning committee that approved 'backstop' plans for nine flats on site, saying student block was 'what we want to build'.

Howell Road garage

NEWS  ⁄  PLANNING & PLACE

26-bed Howell Road garage site student accommodation block allowed at appeal

St James Neighbourhood Plan community balance aims discounted and council policy and evidence deemed insufficient in inspector's decision to overturn planning committee refusal.

Exeter Academy English language school in Sylvan Road, Pennsylvania

ANALYSIS  ⁄  TRANSPORT & MOBILITY

Plan to convert language school to nursery to test credibility of city council active travel policy

Exeter Academy sits near top of steep hill 250 feet above city, far from accessible bus and rail routes, but developer claims local plan compliance in 'demonstrably sustainable location' which is 'conducive to sustainable modes of travel'.

Corner of Fore Street and West Street with St Mary Steps church in the background

NEWS  ⁄  PLANNING & PLACE

Developers claim council planning committee refusal was 'if not malevolent, certainly misguided'

Appeal against decision to deny fifth additional storey in build-to-rent scheme above Crankhouse Coffee accuses councillors of seeking to 'appease the weight of objectors' orchestrated opinion' against amendments to eleven year-old consent.

Exeter City Council ballot share by ward 2016 to 2024 line graph

ANALYSIS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Exeter bucks national trend as Labour support falls 6% and party loses vote share in all but one ward

Independent group, Greens and LibDems all take seats and Conservatives increase share in four wards as Labour stays in control of council after close call in Mincinglake & Whipton, holds in key battlegrounds and third Topsham win.

, updated

Exeter City Council 2024 local elections results party seat distribution

BRIEFINGS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Exeter City Council 2024 local elections results

The votes cast for each candidate with vote share and vote share change by party in each ward, plus turnout and the distribution of seats.

, updated

On Our Radar
More stories
2024 Exeter local elections guide graphic showing current council seat distribution

ANALYSIS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

2024 Exeter local elections guide

City council elections take place on Thursday 2 May. Our comprehensive guide covers who's standing where, wards to watch and the backdrop to this year's ballot, which promises to be the most unpredictable contest in years.

Exeter Labour 2024 campaign leaflet

COMMENT  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Council raids community fund for £6 million to pay for eight year-old food waste collection promise

Emergency decision to finance materials reclamation facility investment taken less than a week before 2024 local elections campaign officially began.

Exeter Community Lottery homepage

ANALYSIS  ⁄  COMMUNITY & SOCIETY

Australian multinational is biggest council lottery winner as 92% of local causes receive less than £500

Operator collects £26,000 and city council £16,000 in first nine months as public support for Exeter voluntary and community organisations turned into private profit.

Devon County Council Devon and Torbay devolution deal consultation results bar chart

COMMENT  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

County council to impose new local government tier despite majority opposition to devolution deal

Emptiness of claims that new combined authority will be accountable reflected in failure to respect consultation results as all eight Devon district councils decry prospective democratic deficit.

Electoral Commission voting options graphic

BRIEFINGS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

When, where and how to vote in the 2024 Exeter local elections

Our guide to casting your ballot in person, by post and by proxy as well as voter ID requirements and new regulations for postal votes.

Auditor value for money arrangements recommendations summary chart

ANALYSIS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Auditor broadens inquiry to include Exeter City Futures and ex-CEO secondment to liquidated company

More 'significant weaknesses' found in city council governance and financial and performance management arrangements while St Sidwell's Point valued at £7 million less than build cost and £370,000 ex-CEO final year pay and benefits confirmed.

Spotlight
Spring 2024 community share offer

Exeter Observer celebrates five years of local public interest news publishing

Invest in our Spring 2024 community share offer to help us deliver all the independent journalism Exeter needs and make it five more.

All topics

ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY   ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY   AIR QUALITY AIR QUALITY AIR QUALITY   COP26 COP26 COP26   COVID-19 COVID-19 COVID-19   CITYPOINT CITYPOINT CITYPOINT   CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE   CLIMATE CRISIS CLIMATE CRISIS CLIMATE CRISIS   CO-LIVING CO-LIVING CO-LIVING   COMMUNITY INFRASTRUCTURE LEVY COMMUNITY INFRASTRUCTURE LEVY COMMUNITY INFRASTRUCTURE LEVY   CONGESTION CONGESTION CONGESTION   COUNCIL TAX COUNCIL TAX COUNCIL TAX   CROWN ESTATE CROWN ESTATE CROWN ESTATE   CYCLING & WALKING CYCLING & WALKING CYCLING & WALKING   DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT   DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE   DEVON CARBON PLAN DEVON CARBON PLAN DEVON CARBON PLAN   DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL   DEVON PENSION FUND DEVON PENSION FUND DEVON PENSION FUND   EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL   EXETER AIRPORT EXETER AIRPORT EXETER AIRPORT   EXETER CANAL & QUAY TRUST EXETER CANAL & QUAY TRUST EXETER CANAL & QUAY TRUST   EXETER CATHEDRAL EXETER CATHEDRAL EXETER CATHEDRAL   EXETER CHIEFS EXETER CHIEFS EXETER CHIEFS   EXETER CITY COUNCIL EXETER CITY COUNCIL EXETER CITY COUNCIL   EXETER CITY FUTURES EXETER CITY FUTURES EXETER CITY FUTURES   EXETER CITY LIVING EXETER CITY LIVING EXETER CITY LIVING   EXETER CLIMATE ACTION HUB EXETER CLIMATE ACTION HUB EXETER CLIMATE ACTION HUB   EXETER COLLEGE EXETER COLLEGE EXETER COLLEGE   EXETER CULTURE EXETER CULTURE EXETER CULTURE   EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND   EXETER LIVE BETTER EXETER LIVE BETTER EXETER LIVE BETTER   EXETER LOCAL PLAN EXETER LOCAL PLAN EXETER LOCAL PLAN   EXETER PHOENIX EXETER PHOENIX EXETER PHOENIX   EXETER PRIDE EXETER PRIDE EXETER PRIDE   EXETER SCIENCE PARK EXETER SCIENCE PARK EXETER SCIENCE PARK   EXETER ST DAVID'S EXETER ST DAVID'S EXETER ST DAVID'S   EXETER CITY CENTRE EXETER CITY CENTRE EXETER CITY CENTRE   EXTINCTION REBELLION EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION EXETER   FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FREEDOM OF INFORMATION   FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER   GENERAL ELECTIONS GENERAL ELECTIONS GENERAL ELECTIONS   GUILDHALL GUILDHALL GUILDHALL   HARLEQUINS HARLEQUINS HARLEQUINS   HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP   HOUSING CRISIS HOUSING CRISIS HOUSING CRISIS   LGBTQIA+ LGBTQIA+ LGBTQIA+   LIBRARIES UNLIMITED LIBRARIES UNLIMITED LIBRARIES UNLIMITED   LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD   LIVEABLE EXETER LIVEABLE EXETER LIVEABLE EXETER   LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY   LOCAL ELECTIONS LOCAL ELECTIONS LOCAL ELECTIONS   MAKETANK MAKETANK MAKETANK   MARSH BARTON MARSH BARTON MARSH BARTON   MET OFFICE MET OFFICE MET OFFICE   MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL   NET ZERO EXETER NET ZERO EXETER NET ZERO EXETER   NORTHERNHAY GARDENS NORTHERNHAY GARDENS NORTHERNHAY GARDENS   OXYGEN HOUSE OXYGEN HOUSE OXYGEN HOUSE   PARIS STREET PARIS STREET PARIS STREET   PARKING PARKING PARKING   PENINSULA TRANSPORT PENINSULA TRANSPORT PENINSULA TRANSPORT   PLANNING POLICY PLANNING POLICY PLANNING POLICY   PRINCESSHAY PRINCESSHAY PRINCESSHAY   PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT   PUBLIC CONSULTATION PUBLIC CONSULTATION PUBLIC CONSULTATION   PUBLIC HEALTH PUBLIC HEALTH PUBLIC HEALTH   PUBLIC PARKS PUBLIC PARKS PUBLIC PARKS   PUBLIC REALM PUBLIC REALM PUBLIC REALM   PUBLIC TRANSPORT PUBLIC TRANSPORT PUBLIC TRANSPORT   RAMM RAMM RAMM   REFUSE & RECYCLING REFUSE & RECYCLING REFUSE & RECYCLING   RETROFIT RETROFIT RETROFIT   ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST   SIDWELL STREET SIDWELL STREET SIDWELL STREET   SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION   SOUTH WEST WATER SOUTH WEST WATER SOUTH WEST WATER   SOUTHERNHAY SOUTHERNHAY SOUTHERNHAY   SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT   ST JAMES NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN ST JAMES NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN ST JAMES NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN   ST SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE ST SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE ST SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE   ST SIDWELL'S POINT ST SIDWELL'S POINT ST SIDWELL'S POINT   STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST   STUDENT ACCOMMODATION STUDENT ACCOMMODATION STUDENT ACCOMMODATION   TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL   TRANSPORT POLICY TRANSPORT POLICY TRANSPORT POLICY   UNIVERSITY OF EXETER UNIVERSITY OF EXETER UNIVERSITY OF EXETER   WATER LANE WATER LANE WATER LANE  

More stories