Clash over running of Sheffield sports centre

European Junior Tennis Finals at Graves Tennis Centre..Girls 12 & Under Finals..In action Ekaterina Makarova
European Junior Tennis Finals at Graves Tennis Centre..Girls 12 & Under Finals..In action Ekaterina Makarova

Concerns were raised this week over the question of who should run a Sheffield sports centre, due to be extended at a cost of £14m.

Uncertainty has emerged over who will operate Graves Tennis and Leisure Centre once it has been redeveloped as part of the new National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine.

Sheffield International Venues, which runs the existing complex at Norton, has been told by the council it must tender for the long-term contract.

The move has “disappointed” SIV, which thought it would be given the job on the basis of its longstanding partnership with the council and its record in the city. Some 59 full and part-time staff work at Graves under the wing of SIV, which runs sports and leisure centres across the city.

Chief executive Steve Brailey said: “It is disconcerting for staff who from April 1 next year will not know for certain who they will be working for.”

Despite the concerns, the core of the project remains the same and it is predicted there will be no change to the timetable or cost.

Construction is due to start in September on a two storey extension on disused five-a-side football pitches.

It will include two extra tennis courts, a 25m pool and teaching pool, a regional trampolining and gymnastics facility and a gym and fitness studios, with health consultation and referral services, all part of a project to improve the health and wellbeing in the wake of the Olympics. Grants are coming from Sport England, the Lawn Tennis Association, British Gymnastics and the Government’s Department of Health.

The council has been working with Sheffield City Trust, which oversees SIV, but now the job of overseeing implementation is fully in the hands of the council. The issue of contention, though, is the management of the centre.

Mr Brailey said the council was saying ‘We have got a good relationship with you, you have a good track record and you are well placed to tender, but we have no option but to tender for the management’.

He added: “We regard ourselves as a charity that benefits the people of Sheffield. All the money we raise is ploughed back for the benefit of Sheffield people. Now we have to go through a detailed tender process which takes time, effort and cost.”

Council director of culture Paul Billington said: “The council is subject to a number of regulatory and financial controls. Having considered these, the council has concluded that the future management of the redeveloped facility should be subject to open tender.”