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Planning for growth: Central Bedfordshire and the Facilities Planning Model

This case study shows how Central Bedfordshire Council used our Facilities Planning Model to help plan for a new swimming pool and sports hall provision.

Name of project / organisation

Central Bedfordshire Council

The Facilities Planning Model

The FPM is a spatial modelling tool that can help to assess the strategic provision of community sports facilities. The FPM is a computer model developed and used on license from Edinburgh University. The FPM covers the major community sports facilities of sports halls, swimming pools and artificial grass pitches. It has in the past been used for indoor bowls centres.

The FPM has been developed as a means of:

  • Assessing the needs and requirements for different types of community sports facilities on a local, regional or national scale;
  • Helping local authorities determine an adequate level of sports facility provision to meet local needs;
  • Testing ‘what if’ scenario’s to see the potential impact changes to the supply of provision and changes in demand may have on meeting needs for sports facilities in an area – this can include testing the impact of opening, relocating and closing facilities and of population changes (e.g. from new development); 
  • Helping to provide an evidence base to underpin strategies, plans and policies.

Outside view of Dunstable Leisure Centre

Securing investment

This 2018 use of the FPM followed on from CBC using the FPM in 2013 to help develop an evidence base to under pin its 2014 Leisure Facilities Strategy.

The development of this strategy led us, through our Strategic Facilities Fund, to contribute £2m towards the construction of the new Flitwick Leisure Centre and a further £1m to the redevelopment of Dunstable Leisure Centre. The evidence base provided by the FPM played a key part in helping to secure this investment and in CBCs decision to commit over £36m of capital funding to these two projects.

Growth in Central Bedfordshire

Central Bedfordshire is a unitary authority created from the merger of Mid Bedfordshire and South Bedfordshire District Councils on 1 April 2009. In 2017 the total population was 280,000 and is projected to increase to 322,600 by 2028 (the period modelled by FPM) which represents a 15% increase.

The projected population growth comes from CBC’s allocated housing delivery requirement of an additional 20,000 homes by 2035. CBC’s Local Plan (2018-2035) addresses both the locations of the growth and the supporting infrastructure required to serve the existing and new communities.

Understanding the needs

The extensive housing and population growth will generate significant needs for sport and recreational provision.

To help plan for this growth and inform the Local Plan, CBC wanted to understand the extent and nature of these needs and how they could be met (i.e. what scale of provision would be required and where should it be located).

This information would then enable CBC to:

  • establish an evidence base of facility requirements to help decide where facilities should be located and whether it would be better to provide new facilities, or modernise existing ones;
  • integrate the evidence base into the Local Plan, leisure policy and master planning for new developments; and
  • use the evidence base to help secure developer contributions for the demand created by the new developments.

CBC used the FPM to help provide this information and evidence base for swimming pools and sports halls which was integrated with other facilities research, to create their Leisure Facilities Strategy.

A map of central Bedfordshire

The challenges

There were several challenges which the FPM helped CBC to overcome, including:

  • Determining the options for change - Central Bedfordshire already had an extensive supply of swimming pools and sports halls, so the first challenge was to determine if the existing facilities could meet the needs generated by growth. If they couldn’t, what additional provision would be required? Would it be more effective to modernise/replace the existing facilities, or provide new facilities to meet the needs?
  • Understanding the best locations for any new facilities - If new facilities were required would it better to locate them within existing towns, or as part of new settlements or a combination of both?
  • Knowing what neighbouring local authorities were planning and how planning for new school sports facilities be integrated with community needs Any planned changes to facility provision in neighbouring areas and within the education sector had to be factored in to understand their impact on meeting the needs of population growth in Central Bedfordshire (e.g. any plans for new/enhanced provision, removing community use or closing existing facilities).
  • Identifying what the future needs are and where they are located – The scale, location and timescale for delivery of the new housing developments and the needs they would each generate all had to be included.

A staged approach

As its starting point the FPM uses information from Sport England’s Active Places PowerOpen in a new window tool for details of the supply of provision. These details for swimming pools and sports halls were checked by CBC and all the known projected changes to the supply in Central Bedfordshire, surrounding local authorities and the educational sector were identified and added to the FPM supply side information.

To help Central Bedfordshire Council overcome the identified challenges a three staged approach was taken to using the Facilities Planning Model and a series of different sequential facility options were modelled.

The stages were:

  • A 2018 baseline assessment of current provision

    The first stage established an understanding of the current supply, demand and access to swimming pools and sports halls in 2018 within Central Bedfordshire.

    This established a baseline picture of provision helping CBC to understand what things looked like now, and where any current areas of unmet demand or over supply are located. Understanding the current picture is an essential stage before applying and assessing the impact of changes in both population and facilities.

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  • A 2028 assessment

    The second stage considered the impact of population growth and focussed on the location and scale of the planned new developments.

    Crucially, understanding the scale of the new developments, their locations and the phasing of their delivery. This allowed the FPM to build up the picture of changing demand across Central Bedfordshire.

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  • Options for change

    The third stage looked at testing options for facility changes to meet the demand created in the 2028 assessment.

    This included assumptions about:

    • changing the existing supply of facilities, modernising or replacing them at the same location;
    • assessing the options for providing new facilities within the new developments.

    This options analysis enabled CBC to carry out a “test it and try it” approach so that findings could be reviewed and then options refined accordingly to help build up a picture of what change was required. Six different options were assessed for both swimming pools and sports halls. The FPM is set up for this iterative process allowing additional ‘model runs’ to be easily added, and scenarios tested.

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A map of central Bedfordshire


  • Outcomes

    The key outcomes for CBC from using the FPM were:

    • A strategic assessment of the future need for swimming pools and sports halls using the most comprehensive data available;
    • An evidence-base from which to develop the new CBC Leisure Facilities Strategy;
    • An evidence-base that informs and helps to justify Local Plan policy;
    • The evidence can be applied in site allocations documents and master planning, ensuring new facilities to meet the needs from the planned growth are integrated into development plans at the appropriate location and scale;
    • An evidence-base that supports securing developer contributions;
    • By specifying the location and population of new housing it was possible to establish how much demand the new developments would generate. This is compared to the existing supply to establish if the existing facilities can accommodate the new demand. Often studies only identify the new demand without taking account of the existing supply . This is only half the story and has resulted in challenges to the evidence-base and protracted discussions with developers. The FPM brings together supply and demand and identifies the net new demand generated by the developments;
    • Results which could be considered at a sub-area level within the authority;
    • Whilst the findings were Central Bedfordshire-wide, the FPM allows for results to be looked at by sub-area providing the basis for INDIVIDUAL feasibility studies by identifying the right location, scale and the catchment area for facilities. While sub-area analysis is often used with larger authorities the approach may not be appropriate for small study areas;
    • Answers to “what if” questions;
    • By building up the sequential picture of change it became clear when the right balance was reached. Some options would have resulted in over provision and could be discounted – based on evidence. The FPM can also temper and challenge aspirations for new facilities;
    • Knowledge that for some options modernisation and expansion of existing pools and sports halls at their current locations would be the better approach to meet the needs arising from new developments;
    • Knowledge of the impact of changes to the age structure of the population;
    • By 2028 there will be fewer residents in the age bands with the highest participation in swimming and hall-based sports. The increased needs from population and housing growth will be partially offset by the ageing of the resident population and its reduced demand;
    • The evidence to challenge calls for new provision where it may not be needed to best meet the communities’ needs;
    • The FPM helps to explore the interaction of a range of complex factors to provide measured results. It is often assumed population growth automatically means the need for more (new) facilities. The work challenged that assumption and provided evidence for the right scale of facilities, in the best locations, to meet the demand up to 2028 and beyond.
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  • Using the FPM findings

    CBC is using the findings of the FPM as a key evidence-base for strategic planning. The FPM findings have fed into:

    • The development of a new Leisure Facilities Strategy, to be completed in early 2020;
    • Securing developer contributions to part fund new or modernise existing facilities;
    • Up to the end of December 2018 the previous 2013 FPM work and existing facilities strategy helped CBC secure £2.35m in developer contributions;
    • The master planning of new developments and ensuring the requirements for new and/or enhance provision are integrated into the earliest stages of this work;
    • The development of Local Plan policy to protect facilities required in the future and provide new facilities;
    • Securing investment for new facilities or modernisation of existing facilities;
    • Working with neighbouring local authorities to ensure there is the right balance in the supply and access to sports facilities serving all areas.
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For a full description of Sport England’s facilities planning model click here.

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