Bromley Council, Mytime Active, stalling on solar panels?
Bromley Council needs to take decisive action to resolve the impasse that has developed over the win-win proposals to install solar panels at the Spa (Beckenham) and Pavilion (Bromley) Leisure Centres in the borough.
The South East London Community Energy Co-operative (Selce) has worked up proposals to install solar panels at these centres without cost to either the council or Mytime active who lease the premises from the council. Selce have calculated that the savings generated would equate to £456,190 over 20 years at the Spa and would reduce carbon emissions by 15 tons per year.
The savings would be more as commercial energy prices are likely to increase. The cost and installation of these panels would be £168,650. All these costs including maintenance would be met by Selce .
The installation costs at the Pavilion centre would be £252,000. Savings would amount to £541,876 over 20 years with carbon savings equivalent to 2,914 trees over the same period.
Selce would finance the cost of the works via a public share offer. Since 2014 they have a proven track record of installing solar panels on schools, public buildings in Lewisham and Greenwich. For more details see selce.org.uk.
The author, as a Bromley resident and Selce founder member was contacted by its Chief Executive to express concern that the project had stalled. Neither Bromley Council or Mytime would sign off the project even though planning permission had been obtained by Mytime for the work at both centres . After lobbying from Friends of the Earth (Bromley), Councillor Josh King ( Clock House Ward ) raising the issue with Mytime and a formal council question , Councillor Aisha Cuthbert the portfolio holder for the Environment arranged for a meeting with senior managers at the council.
The meeting was informed that although the council supported the installation of the solar panels as Mytime had a full repairing obligation in its lease with Bromley Council the decision was up to Mytime whether to install the solar panels or not. Neither Cllr Cuthbert or Mytime attended the meeting.
On a positive note, the council’s newly appointed Carbon Reductions Manager was keen to work with Selce on tackling fuel poverty in the borough. Selce has also worked with Bromley Council to install energy efficiency measures at Riverside SPC School. Not all schools will be eligible for solar panels due to the size of the roof and how much sunlight it receives.
It is disappointing that this impasse remains unresolved. It is remarkable that the council will not use its political influence with Mytime to require the installation of these panels. The council is about to spend £27 million on major improvements to two other leisure centres in Orpington and West Wickham run by Mytime where there is no repairing obligation in the leases between Bromley Council and Maytime. The council undoubtedly has clout with Mytime.
Council policy on net zero is that it will only seek to achieve net zero on its own activities. This will lead to ridiculous situations where it seeks to achieve net zero on buildings it owns which are leased to third parties with no repairing obligations. However, the council will not seek the same on other public buildings which are leased where there is a repairing obligation. It is unclear whether the council has published a list of council properties where it is working to achieve net zero.
Mytime active is both a registered charity and a social enterprise company. In 2019 it signed a 40-year lease with Bromley Council to manage 12 leisure centres in the borough. Unfortunately, there are no details on its website concerning whether it has any climate change policies and how these operate in practice.
It certainly provides valuable services to residents in the borough though there is a lack of transparency on how the organisation is run. Local councillors on the Mytime Board are not allowed to tell the public what happens at the board. Mytime are outside of the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.
Pre Covid-19, Mytime
- had over 18,000 members
- welcomed in excess of 4 million customer visits per year
- employed over 1,000 staff,
- had a turnover of £28m per annum
According to its 2021 annual report to Bromley Council, Mytime was hit hard by Covid when it was forced to close leisure centres. The board even considered insolvency. The council supplied emergency funding to avoid closure. In previous years, Mytime had to obtain council permission for capital funding for improvement works at the Spa leisure centre.
Mytime would do well to copy the example of Bromley Council who successfully applied for central government capital funding for a heat pump at Southbrough school, a local authority-maintained school.
The charity register shows that Mytime latest reported income was £20 million and its expenditure was nearly the same. It is therefore surprising that it appears to be turning down the opportunity of the available income from solar panel installation. Such additional income would help to protect the charity from the rising cost of energy and enable it to continue to provide the same level of popular services. As a charity Mytime is supposed to work for the benefit of the local community.
There is clearly a close working relationship between Bromley Council and Mytime which the council’s political leadership could use to persuade Mytime to install solar panels. This an opportunity for Bromley Council’s political leadership to show that it is serious about tackling climate change in the borough.
Progressive opinion in Bromley needs to do two things:
- persuade Mytime to install these solar panels and to develop other energy efficiency measures for all its leisure centres in the borough by contacting Cllrs Robert Evans ( Robert.Evans@bromley.gov.uk ) and Cllr Josh King who are local authority nominees on the Mytime Board of Trustees.
- Ask Councillor Aisha Cuthbert the Environment Portfolio Holder at Bromley Council to meet with the Mytime Board to persuade Mytime to install these solar panels. Her council email address is Aisha.Cuthbert@bromley.gov.uk.
Dermot Mckibbin is a founder member of the South East London Community Energy Co-operative. The views expressed here are strictly his alone.