Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The battle of the pools

I imagine, in common with all Councillors on CWaC I am being extensively lobbied at the moment about swimming pools, leisure and entertainment facilities.

CWaC's Executive, on 1st May,  is set to take decisions about investing both in Northwich and Ellesmere Port in brand new facilities.  These are not trivial decisions, nor indeed is the amount of money involved trivial either.  It is perhaps worth noting at this point that CWaC is set to invest significant amounts of money in new leisure facilities at a time when other Councils (principally Labour ones it has to be said) are closing them.

The Ellesmere Sports Village will cost of the order of £15m, and the current forecast for Northwich is £13.7m.  In common with most councils an annual subsidy towards the running costs will be required.  However the projections show that these new facilities will be at least £0.33m to run, and could perhaps be cheaper still.  CWaC has earmarked the capital for most of this spending - although a small amount for the Northwich scheme will have to come from underspends elsewhere.

You would have thought that everyone would be celebrating the investments being made and the prospect of fantastic new facilities.  Most are, of course, however there are others that want more!
I'm all for ambition by the way.  So, what is on offer:

Northwich
Replacement of the Memorial Hall and the Moss Farm pool with:

  • 25m x 6 lane swimming pool
  • Learner pool
  • Spa
  • Flume
  • 80 station gym
  • 450 seat entertainment venue
at the Memorial Hall site.  This will also be a significant investment in the town and a key part in its redevelopment.

Ellesmere Port
Replacement of EPIC with a new sports village at the former Stanney High School site with a regionally significant scheme including:
  • Sports hall - 8 badminton court size - with 1400 retractable seats for competition spectators
  • TV broadcast infrastructure
  • 25m x 8 lane competition swimming pool
  • 80 station gym
Future development (not part of phase 1) is for indoor athletics, upgrading of the all weather football pitch.

CWaC has consulted extensively on these proposals.  As you could envisage they are widely supported in their communities.   However some want more.

Northwich swimming club want the Northwich facility to have an 8 lane pool.
Ellesmere Port swimming and triathlon club want the Ellesmere Port pool to be 50m long.

As you could envisage neither of these extra proposals come free nor do they come without knock-on consequences if they were implemented.

Leaving aside the cash, for the moment, if the Ellesmere Port facility became a 50m pool this would almost certainly lead to the closure of the Neston Pool.  

Would Northwich be able to sustain a larger pool?  CWaC's modelling suggests that its core catchment is 40,000 people living within 10 minutes drive of the site.  Even if the core was 60,000 - if the drive time was extended to 20 minutes - that catchment would not sustain an 8 lane pool.

Then there is the question of cash and the increased subsidy that would be required.

So, what is my position on all of this - and for those of you who don't know Frodsham - please bear in mind that swimming pools are a vexed subject around here.

First - congratulations and thanks.  My CWaC Councillor and officer colleagues have done a fantastic job in times of public sector austerity to see such significant investments being made.

Secondly - whilst we could all want more - what is being offered by CWaC is affordable, sustainable and, crucially do-able.

Thirdly - if the cash could be found from sources outside CWaC and the long term future of these facilities was sustainable, if the running cost subsidies did not increase, and if there would be no knock-on effects on other facilities I would support the desired expansion - but not otherwise.

Fourthly - whilst creating regionally and nationally significant facilities is a worthy idea it should not, in my view, be at the cost or expense of local facilities.  Those of us living in and around Frodsham know that getting to Northwich can take close on 30 minutes.  Ellesmere Port and indeed Chester are closer - but it is still something of a 'schlep' to get there.  I well recall transporting each of my 3 children to Northgate Arena for swimming lessons every weekend for 6 or 7 years - that was more than a 20 minute drive even on a weekend afternoon.  I want to see more capital released into Leisure facilities -  I want to see investments made here in Frodsham!

Sport England suggest that a community of c13,000 people can sustain a small swimming pool.  Well given the combined populations of Frodsham & Helsby is over 14,000 - ever before you think of the surrounding villages I think we should be on the list for investment.