Big Projects, big challenges

Climate crisis and rising utility costs have created a range of new challenges for the design, development and management of leisure facilities, particularly for energy-intensive uses such as swimming pools. David McHendry offers KKP’s perspective on how the sector has been, and going forward be able to, respond.

The climate crisis and rising energy costs have come to dominate headlines and are creating a new set of challenges for the sports sector. While leisure centres and swimming pools in their traditional guises can be viewed as expensive, energy-hungry buildings, central government funding grants of some £63 million to assist leisure operators to cope with rising energy costs and to introduce more energy-efficient technology suggest that, even in Whitehall, there is recognition of the role that leisure facilities still have to play in addressing ongoing, long-term targets for health, physical activity and community development. While old challenges remain and new ones emerge, leisure facilities and the opportunities they provide still matter.

Even prior to the recent escalation of utility bills, Sport England and UK Active had predicted a difficult future for UK swimming pools. The exponential rise in energy costs has only added to this, with many local authorities and leisure operators expressing genuine concerns with regard to potential facility closures. Welcome as the announcement of government financial support for leisure facilities may have been, it is going to take time for the funding to filter through and for energy-efficiencies to be implemented. For many operators, time is of the essence and the support available cannot come soon enough.

Climate and energy issues are not new challenges for the sector, but the scale and speed of change are. Recent KKP projects include reviews of the performance of Wigan’s sports facilities, swimming pools on the Isle of Man of behalf of the government, the National Aquatic Centre in Dublin (a 50m pool, diving and leisure pool facility) and the replacement for the Cascades Leisure Centre in Gravesend, Kent. In Gravesham, KKP has been involved from the initial built facility strategy providing and developing the centre specification with the Council, and design team. For these and many other projects, energy efficiency, wider operating costs and revenue generation are crucial to venue feasibility and sustainability. Going forward, such issues will top the agenda and be closely scrutinised from the earliest stages of the development of any leisure facility new build or refurbishment project.

With stories emerging from leisure operators that new utility contracts have added up to £500,000 to their annual overheads for a single local authority contract, the impact on those with multiple contracts can be eye watering. Some councils have braced themselves for facility closures while others are struggling to justify price increases during a cost of living crisis.

For swimming pools, there is a certain irony when it comes to balancing energy use and income generation. Heating water for a pool and showers is a major expense and, while some operators have challenged their users with lower water temperatures, where there is a focus on income generation, it is generally activities that need warmer water, particularly learn to swim programmes, which are looked to. Thus, while operators wait for government support funding to be distributed and retail utility prices to reflect the declining wholesale costs of energy, they have what might be viewed as conflicting imperatives in terms of their overall strategy for survival.

There have not been, nor are there likely to be, any quick and simple solutions but there are grounds for optimism amidst the gloom.

Perhaps the starting point in the search for an upside should be recognition of the fact that the quest for energy-efficient buildings in the sport and leisure sector is not new. Architects and engineers have been tasked with the reduction of energy costs as a key part of design briefs for a long time and, as technology has developed and experience is gained, the facilities being constructed have improved.

S&P Architects, with whom KKP works extensively on many projects, recently unveiled the UK’s first ‘Passivhaus’ leisure centre at St Sidwell’s point in Exeter. Working with engineering experts Arup, S&P applied Passivhaus principles, including triple-glazed windows, premium-grade insulation and air-tight internal environments to create what is claimed to be the most energy-efficient leisure facility in the UK and one of only three Passivhaus leisure centres in the world. St Sidwell’s Point is said to use 70% less energy than comparable traditional buildings, figures that will command attention from anyone involved in new facility discussions.

It will come as no surprise to discover that meeting the facility construction requirements of Passivhaus design is an expensive business but in the context of climate emergency declarations and climbing energy prices, a 70% reduction in energy use is a powerful argument for up-front investment.

Ultimately, it is unlikely that the Passivhaus concept will immediately become the default for all leisure buildings but even if it offers a starting point for discussion its guiding principles will inform design debates and begin to have a positive impact on reducing energy use.

Efficiency versus affordability is an ongoing debate and ultimately such investments and outcomes are a political decision but KKP’s experience, gained over many years working on a great many facility projects, suggests that taking the best possible option as the starting point is the best approach. The balance between cost and outcome – often referred to as ‘value engineering’ – almost inevitably brings compromises as the project progresses towards completion. However, beginning with and maintaining a clear understanding of the key principles of the scheme provides a better chance of retaining the best elements of the project intact for when it is time to cut the ribbon and open the doors.

It is probably fair to say that Passivhaus principles are currently the clearest guide on how to get the best in terms of energy-efficient facilities and while clients may not be able to afford to commit to delivery of the full Passivhaus specification, they can benefit from consideration of the available options and the energy efficiencies available within the overall Passivhaus concept.

KKP was recently taken to task during a presentation to elected members as to ‘why we had presented a ‘Rolls Royce’ version” of the project under discussion as the first option. Our answer was – and always is – that it is better for the commissioning client to fully understand the optimum solution and then to work back from it so that the impacts of any compromises are clear from the outset. This enables all involved to make informed decisions and ultimately to achieve the best possible outcome for the available investment.

As technology evolves and the skills and experience available within local authorities advance, the issue of what is possible and what constitutes the best possible outcome will evolve too. If growing climate consciousness and differing political perspectives are added to the debate, the definition of ‘best possible outcome’ will almost certainly change. If climate emergency and energy efficiency are at the top of the list of desirables, the direction of value engineering will also look a lot different, as will the buildings that result.


Ensuring that strategic housing development sites bring the right level of leisure provision. (Why an up-to-date evidence base is so important).

All needs assessments/strategies, as standard, provide detailed scenarios setting out the level of future demand generated from population increases derived from housing growth. In the case of indoor and built facilities strategies (IBF) and playing pitch strategies (PPS) they also, as appropriate and applicable, detail the associated costs of supplying increased sports provision using Sport England’s calculators.

In our experience, developments of 600+ dwellings tend to generate demand for the creation of new outdoor sports provision.  The presumption is that larger housing expansion schemes will generate demand for sports such as football. Consideration is normally given to the potential for provision of multi-pitch sites with suitable ancillary provision i.e., clubhouse/changing facilities and car parking. Providing single, even double, grass pitch sites is no longer considered to offer long-term sustainability for pitch sports.

An early KKP foray into major new settlement planning was the Elms Park development in Northwest Cheltenham on the boundary of Cheltenham and Tewkesbury authorities. This incorporated plans for 4,000+ homes and the best practice and design considerations provided followed our production of the joint authority Social, Sport & Open Spaces Study (including PPS).

Primarily though, our needs assessments/strategies are key to informing the need for sports provision to be secured as part of strategic housing developments. Initial proposals on the 5,500 dwelling Hanwood Park development in Kettering – particularly in relation to provision of artificial pitches for hockey, were challenged, updated and improved following our production of the 2020 Kettering PPS, IBF and Open Space Study.  The overall process was testament to the fact that constructive and open dialogue with NGBs is critical to successful development of new provision. Crucially, it is not just about providing the facilities, but assessing who is going to use them, at what level and based upon what degree of predicted community and sport value and sustainability.

Master planning for the 4,000+ home New Lubbesthorpe development in the Blaby District Council area was also informed by the Authority’s PPS. In addition to the inclusion of a range of woodland walks, cycle paths and green open space, the recommendations set out in its FA/Football Foundation generated local football facilities plan were also pivotal to the Authority securing funding for new leisure facilities and all-weather sports pitches plus full-sized 3G pitches linked to a new secondary school development.

The 2021 South Worcestershire IBF and PPS informed cross-boundary community swimming pool, sports hall, fitness and pitch provision requirements linked to housing development at a range of strategic development sites the largest of which, at 5,000 homes, was at Worcestershire Parkway.

In Carlisle, we have been assessing the provision required to service demand generated by the new resident base in the St Cuthberts Garden Village which will have a planned 10,000 homes. Plans for recreation and leisure provision are being informed by the City’s Playing Pitch & Outdoor Sports Strategy 2022. It is likely to include at least one sports hub plus community use provision at the new secondary school. Of all the sites included in the Government’s Garden Village programme, St Cuthbert’s is one of the largest in terms of potential capacity and is among the most ambitious development projects being actively progressed in the north of England.

Bringing things right up to the present, the Colchester & Tendring Borders Garden Community (8,000 homes) is being informed via the joint-authority commissioned Colchester & Tendring Open Space, Sport & Recreation suite of studies (including IBF, PPS and open spaces strategy) 2023 and the Lancaster South, Bailrigg Garden Village will be informed via the Open Space Study and new PPS which will be completed by mid-2023.

The Government believes that the development of locally-led garden towns and villages has the potential to deliver the homes that communities need and that, in addition to providing new homes, they also bring new jobs and boost local economies. Whether one agrees with this form of development as a way forward, the quality and scale of open space, sport and leisure provision is pivotal to the subsequent quality of life in these new, and the adjacent existing, communities. Key to this is having a full understanding and evidence base – and ensuring that it is fully addressed.

Claire Fallon is principal consultant and director at KKP

Picture courtesy of the Leicester Mercury



February 2023

Keen competitive footballer Carmel Daniel considers the implications of the FA’s plans for girl’s football

The FA Inspiring Positive Change Strategy and its Let Girls Play campaign support its strategic ambition to give all girls what it describes as ‘equal access to play football’ in school. At present, according to the FA, 63% per cent of schools currently offer girl’s football in PE lessons and its target is to raise this figure to 75% of schools providing this by 2024.

The #LetGirlsPlay campaign supports this ambition by encouraging people to stop, listen and see how they can make a difference to this current challenge. Its website provides resources to help influence the start of change and allow more girls to feel the mental and physical benefits of exercise through playing football.

The Lionesses’ have called for a nationwide shake-up to the way sports are taught, telling the Government that “this is an opportunity to make a difference” and asking it to make it a priority to invest in girls’ football in schools, so that ‘every girl has a choice’.

Baroness Sue Campbell noted that ‘currently, only a third of girls aged 5-18 participate in football every week and suggested that ‘now is the time to drive a far-reaching ambition to open up the game in every way to girls’ indicating that the Let Girls Play campaign ‘allows parents and teachers to play a huge role in joining us in this commitment’.

While this is an understandable ambition for football it does raise a few issues.

The phrase ‘equal access’ is somewhat loaded and, arguably, inappropriately emotive. Does the equality reference relate to boys or is football being equated with other notionally girls’ sports. If it does relate to boys is the implicit assumption (or proven situation) that all boys have ‘access to football’?

If it is to gain this greater foothold on the PE curriculum, what must give way – netball, hockey, badminton, athletics, gymnastics, dance? Would provision of equal access to football be damaging to these other sports/activities or is this an FA desire to create an Orwellian scenario where all sports are equal but some are more equal than others!

The influential Women’s Sports & Fitness Foundation Changing the Game for Girls report notes that the National Curriculum is already broad enough to allow teachers, in consultation with girls, to choose activities that will be engaging and motivating to female students.

Leaving this to one side, is there evidence to suggest that there is a clamour among girls to gain equal access to football. It is possible that ‘equal access to football’ may simply amount to the extension of imposition of a curriculum on an unwilling and un-consulted audience?

In her article: Girls should get the chance to play football at school – but PE needs a major rehaul for all students (published 4 August 2022 in The Conversation, Shrehan Lynch; Senior Lecturer in Initial Teacher Education at the University of East London notes that ‘a narrow curriculum is often informed by teachers’ own sporting love affairs.

Her view is that this can be seen in the continued recycling of traditional sports, like football, rugby, cricket and athletics for boys and dance, netball, rounders and athletics for girls’. She suggests that ‘a negotiated curriculum would be far more beneficial, giving young people choices in what they want to participate in and how’.

She also makes the point that ‘there are many other ways to make PE more modern and equitable…’ and that ‘schools often don’t realise they are engaging in highly inequitable practices and offering little choice to students, because many teachers simply mimic their own experiences of PE’.

She goes on to proffer the theory that ‘instead of seeing that their role is to ensure all young people can find ways of enjoying movement that can be carried throughout life, they (PE teachers – male and female) just continue the cycle of outdated and uninspiring PE’.

The Childwise Monitor Report 2022; based on a survey of more than 2,700 children aged 5-16 across the UK between September and November 2021 found that the sports gender gap per se had widened last year, with boys playing an extra hour on average more than girls. It suggests that girls play around half the amount of football, rugby and cricket as boys in secondary schools and that girls aged between 11-16 were offered around half the amount of coaching in traditionally ‘male’ sports last year compared to boys of the same age.

It also found that 33% of girls aged 11-16 reported playing football at secondary school, compared with 63% of boys and noted the considerable drop compared with primary-age children where 54% of girls aged 7-10 said they played football last year, compared to 80% of boys.

According to Childwise, (un)equal access is comparably prevalent in rugby in which girls (14%) in secondary school played less than half the amount as boys (29%) and cricket (12% – girls / 21% – boys). The cricket figure is, arguably, of greater concern given that cricket coaching at primary school is relatively equal; 21% of girls aged 7-10 reporting having received training in the sport last year compared to 24% of boys.

The Childwise Report showed that girls still tend to take part in more traditionally ‘feminine’ sports such as netball and gymnastics, which typically get less airtime than football, cricket and rugby. At secondary level, girls played almost five times the amount of netball last year than boys (61% of girls aged 11-16 had received coaching compared to 13% of boys). Girls also did more than three times more gymnastics than boys; 8% of boys aged 11-16 were offered training in the sport during PE compared to 30% of girls.

Perhaps it is simply team games opportunity for girls about which people should be concerned given that while girls are offered broad access to such sport in primary school, opportunities tend to drop off once they reach secondary education.

Arguably, it is more important to consider this issue in respect of the influence that football could have in respect of girl’s PE and sport in schools per se. The entire England Lionesses squad urged the Government to commit to giving girls at least two hours of PE lessons each week.

Labour has also called on the Government to introduce an “Equal Access Guarantee” for schools, which would ensure that girls and boys are offered equal access to sports during PE lessons. Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson urged the Government to update current guidance which recommends that while boys can be taught traditionally ‘male’ sports on boys-only teams, girls should be offered “comparable” sports.

The DfE insists that it is up to individual schools to decide what sports to teach, noting that swimming is the only one which is compulsory on the national curriculum.

Clearly there is no right or wrong ambition or answer, but perhaps the focus of the FA (and other sports) should start by reflecting the Lionesses’ demand that the Government commits to girls getting two hours of (preferably high quality) PE before we start dividing the spoils?

Carmel Daniel is a consultant at KKP


January 2023


Optimising the value of your strategic planning

In its Strategic Outcomes Planning Guidance, Sport England states that ’a strategic approach to sport and physical activity services and provision, which identifies and delivers local priorities, can make such a difference’. It notes that ‘a clear, strategic and sustainable approach can play an important role in making sure that investments into services and facilities are effective’.

Professor Cliff Hague, Emeritus Professor of Planning and Spatial Development at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh quoted on the RTPI website states that “today there are 180,000 more people living in urban areas than there were yesterday. There will be another 180,000 there when you wake up tomorrow and another 180,000 the day after that”. While this might be over-stating the case it does focus attention upon the way in which urban areas are expanding.

The RTPI notes that ‘planning is about people, places and sustainability’ and ‘improving public health and living conditions’. There is no doubt that the demand created by population changes, housing growth and the stresses of everyday life necessitate leisure provision of a scale and quality to cater for the sporting, active recreation, health, wellbeing and relaxation needs of the community.

With this in mind, and in looking to ensure that they obtain maximum value for money, local authorities are increasingly commissioning indoor and built sports facilities (IBF), playing pitch and outdoor sports facilities (PPOSS) and open/green spaces (OSS) needs assessments and strategies via a single overarching commission – a full suite. Many are also now teaming up with neighbouring authorities to do this.

The key benefits of full suite leisure needs assessments include:

  • Simultaneous, consistent assessment of the quality and value of related, linked and adjacent leisure and open space resources.
  • Ensuring that the way in which local authorities plan for their indoor, outdoor, formal and informal recreational facilities reflects commitments made with regard to the health and wellbeing of their communities.
  • The opportunity to work with officers and members to improve their collective focus on, and generate detailed appreciation of, local needs and priorities and the importance of provision at authority level.
  • More efficient council officer (and member) focus and use of time and resource.
  • Adoption of ‘joined up’ cohesive approaches to securing and making most effective use of S.106 and Community Infrastructure Levy funds.
  • Improved cross-disciplinary consideration of smaller (and more dispersed) outdoor, countryside and water sports plus active lifestyles and active travel related issues. (This is also attractive to key stakeholders such as Sport England).
  • In addition to actively demonstrating the duty to co-operate, joint authority commissions tend to engender and enhance cross-boundary planning in respect of optimising investment in leisure infrastructure and meeting sub-regional spatial planning demand for housing.
  • Reduced procurement time, effort, and cost

Because of the breadth of our skills and knowledge base and company capacity, KKP has been delivering these cross-disciplinary studies for 15+ years. Early examples of joint authority work include assignments delivered for Worthing and Adur councils in West Sussex, for Cheltenham and Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire (linked to a major cross-border urban extension) and for the three central Lancashire authorities of Preston, Chorley and South Ribble.

Our portfolio of full suite assignments includes local authorities as diverse as Wirral, East Suffolk, Wyre Forest, Kettering, South Hertfordshire (a combination of Three Rivers, Dacorum and Hertsmere), Staffordshire Moorlands & High Peak (joint commission) and Manchester. We are following this with an innovative assessment specifically related to BMX, skateboarding and action sport provision in the City.

Current full suite clients include Warrington, Wyre. St Helens, the new West Northamptonshire unitary authority, Colchester and Tendring. The latter comprise a joint authority needs assessment and strategy linked to a planned cross-boundary major garden village development.

Full suite and joint commissioning also delivers substantial economies of scale, particularly with regard to site audit and evaluation. Client savings for a full suite of studies for a single authority commission can amount to 10-15% of combined costs with this increasing further when authorities commission jointly.

If you would like to discuss this further with one of our experts – get in touch.


John Eady is the CEO of KKP.