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Plans to refurbish the Oasis to be discussed by Council’s Cabinet

By Tim Burghes,

The Oasis Leisure Centre has been closed for almost three years after its operator at the time, GLL, said the facility was losing money and needed capital investment following the first COVID-19 lockdown. GLL subsequently surrendered its lease to the owner of the site, SevenCapital.

The following year, the Oasis was listed, significantly increasing the cost of bringing the building back into use.

The listing, coupled with leisure centre footfall remaining below pre-pandemic levels and the nationwide increase in energy costs, has resulted in a significant shortfall between the cost of refurbishing the building and its value once works have been completed.

SevenCapital has been looking to sympathetically refurbish the building in keeping with the listing, while also looking at the challenges of making the centre viable for a new tenant.

Earlier this year, the company successfully obtained listed building consent for a replacement covering for the Oasis’ domed roof and has been working with Swindon Borough Council on a commercial approach to use the land surrounding the leisure centre to help offset the considerable costs of breathing new life into the facility.

Specialist valuers, Avison Young, were appointed by the Council to liaise with SevenCapital and consider how to maximise the development value of the North Star site and the land around the Oasis that is not required for the leisure centre.

As a result, SevenCapital has identified a proposal which would see the Oasis refurbished and brought back into use before any further development takes place.

In return, the Council would sell the vacant North Star site, which used to house the former Clares factory, and land around the outside of the leisure centre for a minimum of £6m. The proposal would be subject to SevenCapital obtaining planning permission, entering into a building contract, completing the refurbishment of the Oasis and securing a new operator to run the leisure centre.

The Council’s Cabinet will discuss the proposal at its meeting next Wednesday (15 Nov).

Councillor Jim Robbins, Leader of Swindon Borough Council, said: “This is really exciting news. Reopening a refurbished Oasis is one of our top priorities as a new administration and I am really pleased we have been able to bring this proposal forward with SevenCapital.

“The costs of bringing the Oasis back into use are considerable and we have taken a pragmatic approach when looking for solutions to cover the funding gap. This included accepting that the much-vaunted leisure destination earmarked for the North Star site was not going to happen.

“Cabinet colleagues will therefore be asked to use that vacant site to help give the Oasis a new lease of life. Residents can also be assured that this deal is predicated on the leisure centre’s refurbishment being completed before the regeneration of the North Star and wider Oasis site.”

Councillor Kevin Small, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “The Oasis has been closed for far too long and we are determined to reopen this iconic facility as soon as we can.

“We have worked very hard over the last few months to bring forward a credible plan. We now have a clear pathway for not only bringing the leisure centre back into use, but to regenerate this whole area over the coming years."

Should the proposal be agreed, SevenCapital has confirmed that work on the planning application will then progress, and is expected to take up to 12 months to submission, accounting for intricacies regarding the building’s listed status.

If the planning application is approved, the refurbishment is likely to take around two years to bring the Oasis into wholly restored, improved and efficient working order.

Group Managing Director of SevenCapital, Damien Siviter, said: “We have worked incredibly hard to identify and develop a feasible solution that will satisfy everyone’s mutual goal, which is to see the Oasis reopened.

“Whilst it has been a very challenging task to work around the building’s listed status, we are now confident that the plan we are putting forward will provide the best course of action to be able to restore the Oasis and give it a new lease of life for generations to come as an affordable, efficient and robust community attraction.”