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Westminster Lodge to Close Before New Pool Opens?

posted 1 Apr 2010, 02:34 by Mike M
Council's latest glossy leaflet contains the ominous words "We EXPECT the existing Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre to remain open until the new building is ready", but given their track record on dodgy wording in leaflets we can't help thinking this is Council Speak for "we are not going to guarantee the new project will be finished before Westminster Lodge is demolished". After all, just because Council expect something to happen doesn't mean it will, and it's much easer to close something down on schedule (Bricket Wood pool for example) than it is to finish something new on time!

Elsewhere in the leaflet though Council seem to have realised that spin isn't working so well and are showing encouraging signs of engaging in a discussion of the facts. We take issue with quite a bit of what they have to say and here is our response (original headings from the Investing in Leisure leaflet in bold):

Why is the Council not building a 50m pool?
  • The costs of the various options considered when the original 25 meter pool decision was made in 2006 are not available for public scrutiny. It is impossible for us to judge if this was a sound decision or not.
  • The excuse about a 50 meter pool being built in Hatfield has been tried before: Quote from 2006 cabinet report: "...the University of Hertfordshire is currently exploring the potential of developing a 50 metre pool at its Hertfordshire Sports Village site and have developed concept designs on this basis". Here in St. Albans we are actually going to build a new pool right now, so why not make it the 50 meter pool we all agree Hertfordshire has needed since at least 2006?
  • To quote Mr T. McN. from our feedback: "...Back in 2005, I was chairman of our Community Sports Network... I contacted my friend David Sparkes, Chief Executive of the ASA, and asked him to come to St. Albans and make a presentation to Sheila [Burton] and the Recreation Manager. David was for a 50 metre pool, observing that every such facility that had been constructed had been engulfed by swimmers. Supply created demand [...] There are thriving sports facilities of all types all over the country which lie outside NGB strategies, and local communities would be substantially the poorer without them ..."
Will the new swimming pool be smaller than the current one?
  • The main pool increase is about 6%, the learner pool increase is about 80%. To quote a 20% increase in total water space by counting the learner pool and main pool water together is misleading and just looks desperate.
  • There is no mention of what Council expect demand to be, how or why they think their current plan will meet that demand or any indication that they have even thought about it.
  • There has been no serious discussion of the practicality or otherwise of using the learner pool as an overflow for main pool demand- an idea we think is plain ridiculous. To quote Mr S.M. from or feedback "I can assure you as an NPLQ lifeguard competent swimmers will have no use for a larger learner pool".
  • The Sport England- Active Hertfordshire Sports Facilities Strategy 2007-2016 report states that for St Albans: "there will still be a deficiency of swimming pool provision despite the new facility development at Westminster Lodge" and that St Albans requires an additional: "2.3 (4 lane x 25m) swimming pools (excludes new pool, Westminster Lodge)". That is a lot of missing water space.
Why are diving boards not being included?
  • The leaflet doesn't answer the question. We would ask "why are climbing walls and mud-baths being included?". If Council is meeting the needs of climbers and people who like being immersed in warm mud why isn't it meeting the needs of divers? What process did they use to decide who's needs to meet? Did they throw a dice, or pick little bits of paper out of a bag? If the decision came down to cost then just tell us the numbers; don't patronise us with a load of guff about "trying hard to meet the needs of as many people as possible".
What will happen to the existing Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre?
  • As we said above, we would be very wary of the expect in "We expect the existing Westminster Lodge Centre to remain open until the new building is ready".
Why is Bricket Wood Sports Centre closing?
  • Bricket Wood is closing now because this is when it was scheduled to close. Simple as that. Council have known the design-life timetables for Bricket Wood and Westminster Lodge for decades and have budgeted and drawn up management contracts accordingly. There has been a lot of talk over the years about how new pools would be built on various sites to replace the old ones, and how these new pools would be completed by 2006 at the latest... then 2008 at the latest... then 2010 at the latest... but no one seemed to get around to actually making these new pools happen. Now the old pools are well and truly past their sell-by dates and no end of spin or excuses can hide the fact that we have been badly let down by run-of-the-mill local government incompetence.
What green and sustainable features will the new leisure centre contain?
  • The last item on the list of green technologies is "Possible installation of solar cells", but back in October 2009 Council's cabinet meeting agenda stated that solar sells have been excluded from the plan at this stage on cost grounds. So "Possible installation of solar cells" actually means "No installation of solar cells, but the roof could support them if we were to put them on... but we aren't going to do that because they would cost too much". The cost actually amounts to a bit under 1% of the current estimated cost of the project and would be less than 0.5% if grants could be obtained.