No stone will be left unturned in Worcester swimming pool mission, vows council (From Worcester News)
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City council cabinet agrees to back swimming pool cash hunt
THE deputy leader of Worcester City Council has vowed to “leave no stone unturned” in the hunt for outside help to make a £13.5 million swimming pool a reality.
During a passionate debate at the Guildhall last night, Councillor Marc Bayliss said the decision over what standard pool to create was one of the most vital decisions in a generation.
He likened it to the creation of the South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP) and the transfer of council properties to Worcester Community Housing in terms of importance.
The boss of Worcester Swimming Club also took part in the meeting, and said the city would remain “stuck in the 1970s” until the Sansome Walk pool is replaced.
Following a unanimous vote, the Conservative cabinet agreed:
- To confirm the site of Perdiswell Leisure Centre for the new pool
- That the £13.5 million option, known as option one, will be the preferred one
- That it will be run by an outside operator for a peppercorn rent
- To allocate £10.5 million towards the scheme, and start the hunt for the remaining cash needed
- That option two, the £10.7 million pool, be the “minimum specification” in the case of no more funding being found
Neil Monkhouse, of Worcester Swimming Club, said: “From a swimming club point of view an eight-lane pool is very important - it would seem nonsensical to build one smaller than one created in the 1970s.
“I hope the council will have the resolve, ambition and foresight to build a pool for this city’s future, and not leave us stuck in the 1970s, which is where we are.”
During the meeting Coun Jabba Riaz, the cabinet member for safer and stronger communities, said a £13.5 million pool was the “desired option” but that nobody should “assume” other potential funding sources were available.
“At the moment, in street terms, it’s a case of keeping it real,” he said.
Coun Marc Bayliss, deputy leader and cabinet member for economic prosperity, said: “This is one of the most important decisions we’ve ever had to make, it ranks alongside the SWDP and the transfer of housing stock in terms of importance.
“We’ve identified the maximum amount which can be borrowed prudently and there is a gap between our ambition, and our ‘funding envelope’.
“There is a strong level of support for a new pool in Worcester and this is an important milestone.
“I am pleased with the recommendations and officers will leave no stone unturned to try to bridge that gap.”
He said he did not want to hear the phrase "white elephant" being used again, making reference to recent remarks from opposition Labour politicians.
"All the evidence points to strong support for this," he added.
Coun Adrian Gregson, Labour group leader, who was also at the meeting, responded by making fresh calls for a new consultation.
"Let's pause and make sure this is absolutely something we want to do," he said, reiterating that the city "does not want to end up with a white elephant".
Coun Simon Geraghty, the leader, responded by saying: "I'm convinced that going backwards at this stage is not the right thing to do."
It will now go to full council for a vote on Tuesday, March 26, and if backed will allow officers to kick-start the hunt for outside help.
Under the plan, the existing pool at Sansone Walk would be demolished and the land sold off, adding £500,000 to the funding pot.
The existing leisure centre at Perdiswell would also be knocked down, with the new facility built on land on the same site.
An opening target has been set for early in 2016, but no other facilities will close until the new centre is open.
The £13.5 million pool would come with an eight-lane, 25 metre pool fit to host regional competitions, but a £10.7 million pool would only come with six lanes.
At the moment, competitive swimmers need to travel to Wolverhampton or Gloucester because Worcester's facilities are not good enough.
Both options require prudential borrowing, of £7-£10 million, which would be paid back over 40 years at a four per cent interest rate.
Option two has a £192,000 funding gap, with an independent consultant's report suggesting it is "very nearly affordable", while option one is not unless £5.2 million can be found from other sources.