Track records are vital for clients operating in the leisure sector, who say there is little substitute for experience when they are choosing a contractor to build community facilities.
Fife Council is delivering one refurbishment project in Dunfermline and two new-build leisure projects in Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes.
Alan Faulds, project manager on the council’s asset management team, admits there is a ‘catch 22’ situation in the sector for inexperienced contractors looking to get into the market.
“That is what trips up most contractors,” he says. “They may have done a hydrotherapy pool but they’re competing with contractors that have done Olympic pools, so it is a sad fact that if you don’t have the expertise then you are going to struggle in this market.”
A 70:30 ratio of price to quality is fairly common on these projects, Mr Faulds says, with the lifecycle of the facility a priority for clients.
He says the ‘quality’ element will cover anything from potential disruption to neighbours, to the experience and expertise of the supply chain, along with the defects policy and approach to health and safety.
Aberdeen Sports Village awarded a £18.1m contract for a 50 m swimming pool to John Graham in mid-September, based on the standard 70:30 ratio of price to quality.
Chief executive David Beattie says that having the experience of building a 50 m pool carried significant weight when making its decision.
Beyond this, the life of the facility and the sustainability of the building - from thinking about access points for future maintenance to the types of materials used - are major considerations during the selection process, as is being able to provide innovative solutions at the design stage of a project.
One such example was lightweight, polycarb cladding used on the current indoor athletics building, which is cost-effective and brings extra light into the building.
EC Harris head of leisure Mark Farmer says projects driven by local authority clients are soon to be extinct, with councils turning to private sector partners and section 106 contributions.
“I don’t think we will ever again see local authorities having their own capital spend programmes and building their own leisure centres - I think that has gone for good,” he says.
A theme park in Rotherham, a new stadium for Tottenham Hotspur FC and a swimming pool in Fife are among the top leisure sector projects on the database of construction intelligence provider Glenigan.
When it comes to the large-scale schemes, the big question is the timeframe. But the industry can take some comfort in the fact that the Visions of China project in Rotherham, for example, is the brainchild of Peter Moore OBE - the man who established Center Parcs and transformed Alton Towers.
The biggest block to capital spending for developers remains debt and financing, even for major clients such as Liverpool FC.
Across the spectrum of projects, investors and lenders are rigorously stress-testing the business plans as uncertainty over the economy continues.
But by their nature, the large-scale attractions - particularly the theme parks - will need to stay fresh and exciting if they are going to keep pulling in the customers.
The concept of the recession-led ‘staycation’ has led to more people spending money in the UK. But the impact could be felt in other parts of the leisure sector, with consumers spending less on what could be considered luxuries, such as gym memberships or health clubs, for example.
Niall Aitken, a director in the Davis Langdon hotel, sports and culture team, said the concept of community football and rugby stadiums was an area of work to watch, with projects under way in Wakefield, Colchester and Chesterfield.
Finish and speed key for leisure
When working in the leisure sector, two of the most important considerations for clients are the level of finish and the speed at which the project is completed.
Specialist Plastic Surgeon has done much work in this area and can offer a high level of finish in much less time than it would take to replace or fit out.
“For work in this market, particularly the luxury end of the leisure industry, the level of fit-out needs to be exceptionally high, as the level of client expectation is exceptionally high,” says Plastic Surgeon managing director Rob Mouser.
With its team of fine finishers, Plastic Surgeon can hand-paint marble, replicate intricate wood grain and match colours when the original is no longer available.
Timing is also vital because in many leisure facilities most of the building is open to the public and any closures will cause a drop in income.
“In the leisure sector, more than most others, every room represents a revenue stream so timing is very important,” says Mr Mouser.
“If a room is not up to standard it is the livelihood of the owners of the facility that is a stake; each room plays a massive part in the image.”
The bespoke nature of many leisure facilities means replacing can often be difficult, as parts are made for specific projects or no longer made at all. “Fine finishing is much quicker than waiting weeks for parts, which might not even be available,” says Mr Mouser.
Plastic Surgeon has worked on a range of leisure projects, including work on damaged brick joints at the Olympic Village in London, repairs to interior surfaces at the New Chichester District Museum for Vinci Construction, and repairs of external aluminium doors for JB Leadbitter at Harlow Gateway Leisure Centre.
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Get inside the mind of your client
Understanding the client’s vision for a large-scale leisure scheme is essential for contractors looking to win work, according to Planning Solutions director Tony Ramsden.
The client has just submitted a planning application for a £200 million scheme proposal for Winter Gardens in Bournemouth, which would entail 9,000 sq m of family entertainment space.
It will include an 8,000 sq m cinema complex with rooftop pavilion, soft play area and potentially an art gallery, as well as a public piazza. There will also be 238 residential units and an 180-bed hotel. Build costs are estimated in the region of £60m.
“As with most large-scale schemes, we will be looking at the contractors’ ability to understand the vision,” he says.
“We don’t want to get something approved and then have it beaten down in price and not resemble what the vision looked like originally.”
A “holistic” approach will be fundamental to the project, investing in the quality of the build to keep the maintenance costs down in the longer term.
That means the quality of materials and finish are priorities - limestone and granite rather than concrete for the steps in the piazza, for example - while also producing something that will age well with greenery and a softness central to the landscape.
The landowner is private pension fund APB Park, which has the ability to fund the scheme but is likely to look for a partner or additional investor.
If given the go ahead, work could start next spring, with a completion by 2014.
Roll call: who you need to know
Peter Moore, managing director, BrightAspect
Mr Moore spent 14 years as managing director of Center Parcs, essentially kick-starting the UK short-stay market.
He was also central to the transformation of Alton Towers and led on a masterplan to revive Blackpool before turning his attention to an indoor ski and snow village in Manchester.
Mr Moore has advised the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and Blackpool Council on regenerating coastal towns.
He is now overseeing the Visions of China theme park programme in Rotherham in partnership with regeneration specialists MCR Developments.
Councillor Martin Mullaney, Liberal Democrat cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, Birmingham City Council
Birmingham City Council is preparing to procure a new framework agreement covering a pipeline of work on 24 swimming pools and leisure centres.
The agreement will initially be used to find a contractor for the £13.5 million job to demolish and rebuild Sparkhill Pool and Fitness Centre on the existing Stratford Road site.
The council hopes the Sparkhill project, which was given the green light in May, could set the pattern for future swimming pool provision across the city.
Richard Akers, retail portfolio managing director, Land Securities
Land Securities splashed out £20m on a Bath leisure complex, which includes an 8,360 sq m property, a major attraction for residents and tourists and the only multiplex cinema in the city.
Mr Akers said leisure was “an integral part of our retail business and is increasingly important as consumers seek successful destinations where they can shop, eat out and be entertained”.