#8LanesNot6 becomes a reality!

For several years the Club’s Committee has been working hard to try and get a new pool for the City and, in the process, get an 8 Lane option agreed. This has been a very long and difficult journey.

With several changes in the City Council over recent years the pool has been on and off the agenda, and 8 Lanes and 6 Lanes have both been talked about. Over the last year the Committee have been working very hard with the Council, with the ASA, with the County Swimming Board, and indeed with other Clubs and Councils to try and show the City Council that 8 Lanes could be afforded and was the right option.

On Tuesday 16th September 2014 the Council’s Cabinet formally supported the 8 Lane option and forwarded it to the Full Council for a final decision on the future of the pool. That meeting was held on Tuesday 30th September 2014.

And so, the final day of reckoning arrived for the new pool. All 35 City Councillors were in attendance at the Guildhall, along with local Press, including BBC Hereford and Worcester and the Worcester News. As a Club we were represented in force and it was fantastic to see 8 of our young swimmers in attendance, wearing Club Tshirts and happy faces on the front row of the public seating.

The meeting started at 7pm. The start of the meeting is given over to public speakers who are allowed a short period of time to talk about any agenda item. First up to speak was Neil Monkhouse, who used his 3min 45sec to explain to the Council that the 8 Lane option was affordable and was the right decision for the City. Next up was Club Chairman Simon Richards. Simon explained to the Council that their decision that night was about a new pool for the City, not for the Swimming Club. Simon reminded the Councillors that all of them agreed that a new pool was needed for Worcester. He talked about the old pool opening in 1971 and that the new one would last for another 40+ years. What the Councillors were deciding on was a pool for the next generation, for our children’s children.  Simon went on to say that the Council’s officers had said that an 8 Lane pool was affordable, so their decision came back to the “Ambition” and “Vision” of the Council on the night. Not looking at the here and now, not deciding on making a political decision, but making a once in a generation choice for the future. Simon also talked about the fact that the 8 Lane option was better for Health, local Education, Tourism and the Local Economy. The final speaker on the night was Bernard Simkins, who is the President of the County ASA, is a member of the Regional Board and, indeed, is on the National ASA Board. Bernard is, therefore, an influential individual. Bernard explained to the Councillors all the benefits of 8 Lanes and that the financial situation made it a viable option.

And so, in a matter of 11min 15secs, all of the effort from the public speakers was done and it was over to the Councillors to debate the issue….

When the agenda item came up the meeting lit up. David Wilkinson, the Cabinet Member for Safer and Stronger Communities, introduced the agenda item and provided his support for the 8 Lane Option recommending that the Council adopt it. Almost every single one of the 35 Councillors elected to speak! It was a night of huge passion. All Councillors agreed that we did need a new pool in the City.

The Labour Councillors expressed lots of concerns over the cost of an 8 Lane option and put forward an amendment to the forthcoming vote, suggesting a 6 Lane Option instead. This was subject to a vote.  All of the Labour Councillors and the Lib Dem Councillor voted “For” this option. All of the Conservative Councillors, plus the Green Councillor and the Mayor, all voted “Against” this option.  It was, therefore, defeated by 19 votes to 16.

Next up was a vote on whether a final decision on 8 Lanes should come back to Full Council for final agreement once full coatings were known. This would have meant further delays to the final start of building the new pool.  This was also subject to a vote. All of the Labour Councillors and the Lib Dem Councillor voted “For” this option.  The Green Councillor “Abstained” from this vote. All of the Conservative Councillors and the Mayor voted “Against” this option. It was also, therefore, defeated by 18 votes to 16, with one abstain.

And so, on the the final vote of the matter, 8 Lanes not 6…… More highly passionate debate ensued, with Labour Councillors describing the 8 Lane Pool as a “white elephant” and a “folly”. The Conservative Councillors reacted angrily, talking about their “ambition” and “vision” and that the time had come to build a “competition standard” 8 Lane Pool. They explained that they had the desire to build that competition pool for the next 40 years.

The Club was Tweeting live from the Meeting, with Retweets coming in from up and down the Country. The wider swimming community really got behind us and it was amazing to see the support coming to us live on the night.  It seemed like people were gathered around screens waiting for news.

In the final vote the Green and Lib Dem Councillors voted “Against” the option. It looked like all Labour Candidates would also vote “Against” the option, making the vote very close. However, Councillor Jabba Riaz, who had originally brought the new pool to the Council a number of years ago, chose to “Abstain”. All of the Conservative Councillors and the Mayor voted “For” the option. This meant that the motion was carried by 18 votes to 16, with one Abstain!!!  Spontaneous applause broke out from the public section and cheers were heard.

FINALLY, the City Council had agreed to build a new pool and, even more exciting, had decided to build an 8 Lane “competition pool”!  It was a HUGE night for the City, for the County, the Region and beyond and, obviously, for our wonderful Club.

The BBC carried out a radio interview with our swimmers immediately outside the Council Chamber, with our Club Captains Anthony Redfern and Sophie Groves talking very professionally about the importance of this decision to much more than the Swimming Club. Free Radio carried out interviews the following day.

It had been a massive week for the Swimming Club. This decision means that the County Championships in future can be held in the County!  And we will be able to train in a modern, purpose built facility. Allowing us to move the Club forwards and continue to improve.

Club Chairman Simon Richards said “I would just like to thank everyone who has played a part in this week’s news. It has involved years of hard work, from many people. We would not have got to where we have without that effort. We have achieved something that was impossible even a few months ago. We have been instrumental in getting the Council to make a brave and bold decision. A decision that looks to the future and builds a pool that our grandchildren will swim in and that we can all be proud of. We all look forward eagerly to the first spade breaking ground at Perdiswell and starting the build! Thank you Worcester City Council for making #8LanesNot6 a reality, rather than just a hashtag on Twitter!”