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Luton, For Same Cost, Get 50m Pool & 20m Pool, Diving, Sports Hall, Gym, Cafe...

posted 29 Apr 2010, 02:26 by Mike M   [ updated 29 Apr 2010, 11:47 ]
The Luton Aquatic Centre is contractually constrained to cost no more than £26 million (already making it no more expensive than the most recent estimate for our as yet un-contracted St Albans new build). Among other things the people of Luton are going to get the following for their £26 million:
  • A competition standard 50m, eight lane pool with integrated diving area and spectator seating (this pool is twice as long- and the same width- as the new St. Albans project's main pool making it double the area)
  • A diving training centre
  • A 20m x 10m community pool with 100% movable floor (this pool is also larger than the new St. Albans project's teaching pool, being the same width and 3m longer)
  • A flexible sports hall
  • A 100-station fitness gym
  • Two aerobics / dance studios for flexible use
  • A community function and social room with licensed bar
  • A café, crèche and meeting room
The new centre here in St. Albans does however give us a better 'leisure offer' in at least the following respects- Luton aren't getting:
  • A spa-experience with treatment rooms, plunge pools, spa pool, hot rooms, aroma steam rooms, a scented sauna and various different water based treatments
  • A fancy building with a curving roof and a half-barrel shaped bit at the front containing a bistro
  • A climbing wall
We note with interest that the 25m pool in the current plan for St. Albans is often described by its promoters as competition standard and that the 50m pool in Luton is also described as "A competition standard 50m, eight lane pool". We can also find no evidence of anyone from Luton or its swimming clubs complaining about the imposition of an impractical, overly long and overly expensive 50m pool and demanding a 25m pool instead, though, sadly, it seems some club swimmers in St. Albans are rather less ambitious (see recent correspondence in the Herts Advertiser: Pool Protest Row Continued).

We also note with interest that S&P are also the architects of the Luton Aquatic Centre.

When the people of Luton were consulted about their new centre (you can see the results of the Luton consultation here) this is what happened:

"During the final December 2009 public consultation approximately 550 members of the public attended the public exhibition, held over four days in venues across Luton between Wednesday 9th and Saturday 12th December. The comments received, both orally to members of the project team and via questionnaires, have been largely positive [...]"

"[...] From the results for the indoor facilities, it is clear that the most popular element of the proposals was the 50m swimming pool...".

It is interesting to compare and contrast this consultation with our experience in St. Albans which apparently resulted in us giving our approval for a 25m pool.

We would like to offer our special thanks to Councillor Robert Donald for drawing our attention to the relevance of the Luton development. During a speech at the recent planning meeting (we think he was trying to rubbish us) he made the rather confusing point that there was no possible justification for a 50m pool in Hertfordshire at all because the Luton 50m pool project was going to go ahead, and that we should also not build a 50m pool here and now in St. Albans because it would be fantastically more expensive and... besides... a new 50m pool was probably going to be built at some unspecified point in the future in Hatfield- maybe- although he did also helpfully point out earlier that Hatfield already has excellent and extensive swimming facilities (also, l have just checked, and Hatfield is still in Hertfordshire, and Luton is still not in Hertfordshire). As well as being a bit confusing, and, from the above, seemingly misleading on the cost issue, Mr Donald (or those who briefed him) may also be interested to learn the following:
  • The Luton Aqautic Centre is not currently "going ahead". It does not have planning permission yet and is stuck with the Secretary of State because of Green Belt issues. When I enquired I was told by the (extremely helpful) Luton people that they don't expect to see any decision on the Aquatic Centre before the general election (because of purdah rules) and maybe also not some time after if there is a hung parliament- and that the decision to go ahead is now up to the Secretary of State at the department of Communities and Local Government.
  • The Luton people also assured me that the contractual limit (apparently already agreed: "It can't go over budget") has a £26 million ceiling, though they hope it will come in nearer £24 million.
[I offer my profound apologies to Sandy Walkington, for whom I mistook Concillor Donald in an earlier version of this post!]