Improvements to leisure services

Project planning applications approved

The planning applications for this major project were approved at Reading Council Planning Committee on 31st March 2021.

You can view the details here.

(The search planning reference numbers are 201734 and 201735)

Find out more about the project below.

Palmer Park

Your leisure service is changing for the better!

We’re investing to improve Reading’s leisure facilities.

You can look forward to:

  • A modern new-build leisure centre at Rivermead, including a new competition standard pool;
  • A new 6-lane community pool at Palmer Park linked to the existing sports facilities;
  • Improvements to leisure centres at South Reading and Meadway.

Our leisure partner Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) will operate Reading’s leisure services on the council’s behalf.

This means if you are a member you can access all council sports facilities across the Borough plus a host of other benefits.

What do I need to do now?

Please continue to use your existing membership, activity or course as usual for now.  We’ll keep you updated on any changes that will affect you and talk you through anything you need to know or do.

We will be regularly updating this page with information. If you have any questions about the service that will be provided by GLL in future, please email

For any changes to the current leisure service due to Covid-19 restrictions, visit:

What improvements will there be and when will they happen?

At Reading Council, our aspiration is to provide Reading with the first-class leisure facilities a town of our size and status deserves. Working with our partners, we want to enhance Reading’s reputation as a centre for sport, leisure, culture and events and to contribute to making it an even more attractive place to live, work and invest.

We are investing over £40 million in modern new leisure facilities – including a new flagship leisure centre and two brand new swimming pools – delivered in partnership with our new leisure provider, Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL).

Reading will benefit from:

A modern new-build leisure centre at Rivermead, offering:

  • A 25m 8-lane competition pool and 300 spectator seats
  • A combined teaching and diving pool with moveable floor
  • Splash Pad
  • A 6-court sports hall with 250 spectator seats
  • A 120-station gym with 3 studios
  • A café/ info hub and soft play

At Palmer Park, in addition to the refurbishment of the existing stadium building, there will be:

  • a modern new 25m 6-lane community pool
  • a 100 station gym with 3 studios
  • a junior activity zone/soft play facility with party rooms
  • a new café and information hub

By introducing a 6-lane pool at Palmer Park we will deliver the best possible facilities for Reading and the local community.

By taking the 6-lane option we can combine the benefits of a sizable pool, velodrome and athletics stadium all in one location. This would deliver a relatively unique facility in the region and put Reading firmly on the map as a top sports destination.

Reading’s two other leisure centres will also benefit from improvements: Meadway Sport Centre in west Reading will have a new multi-purpose studio and improved gym, and at South Reading Leisure Centre there will be new health and fitness equipment and gym space.

What benefits can I look forward to?

As well as exciting improvements to Reading’s indoor and outdoor leisure facilities, residents will benefit from an impressive high-quality new service offer, which promises to be accessible, affordable and value for money.

There will be a range of new activities, clubs and courses available, and the latest technology used to enhance customer’s experience, such as fast pay kiosks, booking iPads, membership app and virtual classes.

With the new leisure contract with GLL, you will be able to access membership schemes providing access to every single council sports facility across the borough, with a free ‘Reading Resident’s Card’ giving up to 30% discounts from activity charges and up to 50% discount for concessions.

What other benefits will there be for Reading?

We also want to inspire the communities we serve to lead healthier, more active lives, and to increase participation in sport and physical activity to improve people’s well-being.

We share an ambition with GLL to increase sports and activity levels by 40% as well as a drive to improve health and wellbeing across Reading by inspiring people to lead healthier, more active lives.

There will be targeted activities taking place to help reduce health inequalities, including discounts for young, older and disabled people; free disability helper access; sensory swim sessions; weight management courses, cardiac and cancer rehabilitation; falls prevention interventions and cheap off-peak swimming lessons.

There are also plans to launch a community outreach programme delivering monthly sessions in community settings such as local parks and community centres to help people into regular exercise.

Will there be improvements to accessibility at the new centres?

The new centres will be modern and accessible for all.

The aim is to create an inclusive swimming and fitness environment for people with long-term health conditions, disabilities and rehabilitation needs.

There are plans to include specialised submersible pool pod lifts to lower customers who need extra support into the pools in a safe, dignified and discrete manner, rather than traditional hoists.

The new centres will offer accessible activities such as sensory swim sessions and free disability helper access. The centres will provide accessible changing and toilets – including fully accessible Changing Places.

Will the new facilities be environmentally friendly?

Aligning with our commitment to sustainability, energy efficiency and carbon ambitions, GLL intends to ensure all centres are operated in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner.

The replacement leisure centre at Rivermead and the new pool at Palmer Park will be developed to BREEAM Excellent standards (which is the world’s leading sustainability assessment method) and with the use of renewables where possible, as well as putting in place measures to reduce carbon emissions and improve environmental efficiency.

Who are GLL?

GLL, who operate under the brand ‘Better’, is a non-profit charitable Social Enterprise organisation which runs over 250 sport and leisure facilities on behalf of local authorities across the UK. The leisure provider has already partnered with us in the delivery of Rivermead Leisure Complex for the past 12 years. 

For this project, GLL has partnered with leading architects Saunders Boston and globally renowned Pellikaan Construction Ltd to deliver the design and build of the new facilities.

What will the Council’s role be?

The Council will manage the contract and still have an overview on how the leisure centres are run. Our leisure team will closely monitor GLL’s service delivery against the agreed performance standards set out in the leisure contract. GLL will be required to achieve or exceed these performance measures and will report back to us on a regular basis.

What is the benefit of GLL running the leisure service for the Council?

We want to provide new modern facilities. To minimise costs and drive the best possible value for money, both new and existing facilities will be delivered in partnership with and managed by our new leisure partner, GLL, who specialise in leisure provision. By carefully considering all the options and going through a vigorous procurement process, we are confident that in awarding this contract to GLL we will secure the future of the Council’s leisure facilities.  As a charitable social enterprise, GLL have no shareholders to pay.  Instead they reinvest any surplus back into improving facilities and boosting community sports participation. GLL can also claim charitable relief on their business rates liability, which the Council is unable to take advantage of under direct service provision.

Will I have the opportunity to feedback on the new service?

As part of the contract, we will put measures in place to ensure centre users and clubs have the opportunity to engage with the development and monitoring of the service in future.

What consultation has taken place around the changes?

As part of the procurement process, during 2019 we carried out a consultation which gathered over 600 online survey responses. The consultation also included over 500 face to face interviews and 4 focus groups involving both customers and non-users of leisure services. This feedback has been included in a plan to guide the operation and development of all future facilities. It also builds upon a needs assessment consultation undertaken in 2015.

The Palmer Park planning development framework was approved in March 2020 detailing the development of the new facilities at Palmer Park.

People also had an opportunity to comment as part of the planning process.

What will happen to indoor bowls and squash provision?

Whilst we appreciate the loss of facilities for bowls and squash at Rivermead is disappointing, budget constraints meant we were unable to include these facilities. We are meeting with all the clubs affected to find out how we can best accommodate people and to support them to find alternative locations when the old facilities close.

We have tasked our leisure partners to propose more effective ways to encourage people to take part in physical activity – especially amongst groups of people who will benefit most or who are currently unlikely to participate in sport. This includes expanding the 50+ clubs, providing more walking sports, developing new activities with Age UK and the University of the 3rd Age, as well as other health programmes.

There are plans to link to health programmes such as social prescribing, exercise referral, falls prevention, cardiac and cancer rehabilitation activities. There will also be community outreach programmes targeting priority groups delivering monthly sessions in community settings such as parks and community centres.

Will the development at Palmer Park result in loss of open space?

Whilst we appreciate park users may have concerns regarding changes to open space in Palmer Park, we need to balance this against the benefits of creating a modern new swimming facility. The plan is to build the swimming pool next to the existing stadium to keep any changes to open space to a minimum.

The new development will combine the benefits of a sizable pool, velodrome and athletics stadium all in one location. This will deliver a relatively unique facility in the region and put Reading firmly on the map as a top sports destination. Many teams currently compete and train there and this is set to grow once the new facilities come on line.

Having a range of facilities provided at Palmer Park will allow people to participate in popular physical activities at one location, rather than making multiple visits to other sites.

The design will be considered in the context of public transport links; carbon reduction commitments and initiatives such as encouraging sustainable travel (cycling, walking, etc.) and electric car parking points. This will be balanced with the planning guidance, whilst providing access to services and enabling Palmer Park to maintain and grow its reputation as a top sports destination.

Will staff be on zero-hour contracts?

We take the issue of fair employment practices extremely seriously and we agree that jobs should be permanent for those who want them. The leisure industry is characterised by jobs in which some employees choose to have the flexibility of zero hours contracts, for example – personal trainers and swimming teachers. However, this should be used appropriately and, as part, of fair employment practices.

Employee rights is something that has been central throughout the leisure procurement process to date. As part of the service specification and associated draft contract, a commitment to staff being paid Living Wage Foundation rates has been made a requirement.

Will there be more or less water capacity in Reading when the new facilities are open compared to when Central Pool and Arthur Hill were open?

There will be more water space in Reading once the new facilities are open.

When the new pools are open, we will be providing 1516.75m2 of water space. This will be approximately 150m2 more than the space provided in 2015.

Palmer Park Archaeological Survey

We carried out an archaeological survey at Palmer Park in March 2021, as part of preparation work required for the construction of the new community swimming pool at this location.

The archaeological survey that took place at Palmer Park formed part of the pre-work needed for Reading’s leisure planning application and was a necessary condition contributing towards any planning decision.

The Council worked closely with Berkshire Archaeology and Thames Valley Archaeology to survey and record the archaeological landscape of the area where the construction will take place.

The majority of the trenches will be around the existing car park and on the area of grassland to the right of the stadium. The trenches will be up to 1.6m wide and 15m long, to a maximum depth of 2m. Public notices will be on display and whilst the excavations take place, these pits will be protected by Heras fencing to ensure site safety.

The work contributes to the archaeological understanding of the area, recording any findings and, as is standard in any pre-development work, it has informed the planning submission for the future development.