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The following article was published in the Worcester News on 16 April 2014.
SCALED-BACK plans to build a new six-lane swimming pool in Worcester look set to go ahead despite appeals to reinstate a scrapped scheme for an eight-lane facility.
Cash-strapped Worcester City Council revealed earlier this month a £13 million scheme for a new eight-lane, competition-standard pool at Perdiswell had been scrapped due to cost pressures and had been replaced with plans for an extension to the leisure centre.
At a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Tuesday, April 15 members agreed to approve the plans, which are expected to cost up to £7 million, despite widespread concern from people involved with swimming that it would not be suitable.
Chairman of Worcester Swimming Club Adele Rimell spoke at the start of the meeting, saying the smaller pool would mean there was not enough capacity to provide swimming facilities to everyone who wanted it.
“No one knows what the funding situation will be in 12 months and the consequences will be with us long after you have left office,” she said. “This will be your legacy.”
But Cllr Roger Berry said the council had little choice.
“In a world without local government cutbacks I would be more than happy to propose a pool with eight lanes,” he said.
“The reality is we live in very tough times.
“There is no way the city is going to be able to fund an eight-lane pool.”
He added it was “a miracle” the council were even able to go ahead with the revised plans.
“It would be cloud cuckoo land for us to take on a cost we can’t afford,” he said.
Chairman of the programme board Duncan Sharkey presented a series of possibilities for the future of the scheme – to refurbish and extend the Perdiswell centre, to go ahead with the original plans to build an entirely new facility, to build a smaller pool, to ‘mothball’ the scheme in the hope it could be returned to in the future, to seek more funding for the plans or to scrap it entirely.
He said the ultimate decision would have to be made on cost.
“Running an eight lane pool is substantially more expensive for the council because of the amount of water we need to keep heating and the number of staff,” he said.
Council leader Cllr Adrian Gregson said: “We should be really welcoming this opportunity.
“Six or so months ago there was a very real risk we wouldn’t get to this stage.
“We’ve got to the stage now where we can very positively say there will be a swimming pool in Perdiswell and the development will be better than the one we started off with.
“But we do recognise the concerns and disappointment that some people have.
“We can now get rid of the debate and start cutting sods.”
The cabinet agreed to approve the plans to refurbish and extend the Perdiswell centre, which will also include a new gym. If the plans are approved by the full council in June the facility could be complete by the end of next year, six month earlier than the previous proposal.
The current pool in Sansome Walk is set to be demolished once the building work is complete.
The following article was published in the Worcester News on 1 April 2014.
New scaled-down swimming pool plans revealed for Worcester
By Tom Edwards
New swimming pool: £6.5m plan today revealed
PLANS for a brand new swimming pool and leisure centre in Worcester costing up to £13 million have been dramatically scrapped – after the city council said it cannot afford it.
But a fresh plan can today be revealed to create a new six-lane facility in the city by building an extra wing onto Perdiswell Leisure Centre.
The project would cost around £6.5 million and include a big refurbishment of the rest of the site, with a new gym part of the package.
Under a new vision for Worcester the beefed-up Perdiswell facility would be complete by the end of next year, around six months earlier than the old proposal.
The controversial move has already led to claims the council is “going in the wrong direction”, but bosses at the cash-strapped authority say its financial circumstances have drastically changed since 2011 when the original plans were first outlined.
The Labour leadership, which inherited the old blueprint from the previous Conservative administration last May is blaming funding cuts, rising construction costs and declining leisure centre income as just three reasons for the change of tack.
It also means hopes of creating an eight-lane, competition standard facility, something the city’s swimming club has long been calling for, are all but over.
Sansome Walk pool, which has six lanes, will be demolished once the Perdiswell revamp is finished.
Councillor Adrian Gregson, city council leader, said: “This exciting new proposal has many advantages.
“It would be far more affordable, it should mean we are able to build a new pool and have it open before the target date of 2016, and it would mean we could keep the majority of facilities at Perdiswell open while the construction work takes place.
“Increases in the costs of construction and borrowing, and the continuing cuts to Government funding of councils, mean the ‘new build’ options are no longer affordable.”
The Labour-led cabinet is meeting on Tuesday, April 15 where it will be asked to endorse the new plan and rule out old options.
From there, it will go to full council in June for a vote.
The council says if accepted, the majority of facilities at Perdiswell will operate normally while the extension is built.
Once the pool is open the sports hall and other parts of the centre would be refurbished.
The £6.5 million would be borrowed under a 40-year mortgage with an interest rate of 4.4 per cent.
It would come from the Government-backed Public Works Loan Board (PWLB), where rates were just 3.9 per cent in 2011.
Construction costs are up £300 on two years ago, at around £2,300 per square metre, and since then Government grant funding to Worcester is down 50 per cent.
The council also says its leisure centre income is down 15 per cent on last year, citing that as an additional factor.
CITY SWIMMING CLUB HITS OUT AT “UNWELCOME AND TIMID” MOVE
WORCESTER Swimming Club has attacked the new plans as “unwelcome, timid and retrograde”.
The body, which represents swimmers across the city, has been campaigning for years to get an eight-lane county-standard pool.
It says competitive swimmers must travel to Wolverhampton or Gloucestershire to take part in events due to Worcestershire’s lack of facilities.
Adele Rimell, the chairman, said a petition is now circulating to try and change the council’s view.
“This is an unwelcome, timid and retrograde decision that is completely short-termist and lacks any ambition for our city,” she said.
“Swimming is a very popular and growing sport in Worcester and this is reflected in a significant increase in local swimming club membership in recent years, with demand for pool use already exceeding capacity.
“Coupled with the growth in population planned for the city, without an eight lane pool there will be an increasing shortfall in the provision of water space that families, schools and clubs have access to.
“The choice of pool facility will have an irrevocable impact upon our city and the decision needs to leave a legacy that will properly serve future generations.”
The stance has also been questioned by Worcester Conservatives, with group leader Councillor Simon Geraghty saying he wants cross-party talks.
“We were always aiming for a county-standard facility and this sounds like a level of ambition which is a lot lower,” he said.
“We accept any new pool has to be deliverable and that’s precisely why we’ve got a lot of questions.
“If you’d have said five years ago we’d have the Worcester Arena by now (in Hylton Road), people would have said ‘nonsense’ – that goes to show what is possible if you aim high.
“The city is expanding in size and with that needs to come an ambition, so it’s difficult to say whether we will support this or not, we need to consider it carefully.
“Make do and mend is the way I’d describe it.” But Councillor Richard Boorn, cabinet member for finance, said the old proposals were a “fantasy”.
Those plans were dependent on a deal with a third party backer, such as a supermarket, building on land at Perdiswell but early interest from a mystery food store last year went nowhere.
“You don’t have to be a genius to realise we can’t afford what was with us before – it was never deliverable,” said Cllr Boorn.
“We have not got that enabling development and we’ve got to get on with plans for a new pool – nobody disagrees we need a new pool but it’s got to be one we can afford.
“We’ve mentioned fantasy budgets before and this is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about.”