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What PoolTooSmall and Civic Society Actually Said to Cabinet -10 August 2010.

posted 5 Sep 2010, 08:50 by David Gilroy   [ updated 10 Sep 2010, 04:37 ]
David Gilroy and Peter Trevelyan addressed an Emergency Cabinet Meeting of St.Albans District Council on 10th August 2010.
Here is what they actually  said.
"PoolTooSmall's proposal to add 2 extra lanes to the new Westminster Lodge (WL) Main Pool was  made in a spirit of pragmatism and compromise. We acknowledge that our proposal won't solve the whole District's water space problem but it solves the WL Main Pool overload threat for decades to come, as I suggested at O&S, until the 2040's decades - maybe 30 to 40 years ahead .
However, Cabinet members and officers have made it abundantly clear in the Press recently that they will reject the O&S Recommendation and
opt for their earlier facilities mix and the published recommendation tonight  makes this quite clear .So much for pragmatism and
compromise!
As recently as 16 June 2010 ,Cllr Rowlands was writing in the Review newspaper in a letter entitled  "This is what will be built ". Quote
"This is the right size of pool for our community both now and with future population growth and there will be plenty of capacity in the
future ".
Now where's the evidence? Looking at all the reports is far to the contrary to his statement.
However ,by O&S meeting of July 19th Project Manager Ms Julie Simpson is preparing us for timed sessions with coloured armbands taking me
back personally to the 1950's- Hilsea Lido in Portsmouth and this with a a 2010 price tag of £26.7 million! Call that progress? Cllr Robert
Donald talking at the same meeting about "the paucity of water space " said " Yes , I want to meet that deficiency . I'm afraid we can't do
it and we have to be realistic it may not be possible in the immediate future .
Well, we think it can be done and we've got to think about it better .
Cllr Donald also made the point that the new development is more than just a swimming pool .
We agree wholeheartedly . And our concerns about this project have also grown from not just about the size of the pool but to everything
else to go with the project .Operational , managerial, financial competence or possibly the LACK of it ! The key to understanding this
project - and I know this as a professional engineer - it's in the facilities mix , the financing - the business plan . But we can't see
the plan because it's kept under lock and key ,as far as I am concerned at least, in Part 2 of the Council meetings.

Project Team , you have already been found badly wanting with the waterspace deficit .We do ask the question -"Can we trust you with
anything else - the overall mix, the finances , safe operations and making your peace with the citizens of St.Albans who are NOT HAPPY!

I am now going to hand over to Peter Trevelyan who is going to address a few more of the concerns that PoolTooSmall and the Civic Society
have.

Peter's piece is on the Civic Society website at http://www.stalbanscivicsociety.net/cs-presentation.html and also
reproduced here .
My name is Peter Trevelyan, and I am speaking on behalf of the PoolTooSmall group and the Civic Society.
At a meeting last Thursday, representatives of the PoolTooSmall group, and the Civic Society met for a discussion. We agreed that a co-ordinated statement should be prepared, and that I would read the statement to Cabinet tonight.
The Civic Society has also been in contact with the Abbey Theatre to find out the current position with negotiations about the land currently leased to the theatre and its future options for expansion.
The Civic Society is making these comments in its capacity as a city 'watchdog', although we recognise that this is a self-appointed role. I have to emphasise that I do not speak on behalf of the Abbey Theatre, any comments on their position are entirely my own.
The Cabinet should also note that, on behalf of the Society, I have recently lodged a complaint with the Council's Standards Ctee with respect to the meeting on 28 April 2010. I am not going to re-open the planning issues tonight, but there remains a lingering and unpleasant odour about the way that meeting was conducted.

First, the size of the pool. The fact is that the Council's own figures, as set out in the report before you, demonstrate that the Pool will be Too Small unless, and until, further pool space is provided. No amount of casuistry or spin can hide the fact that the deficit amounts to about two and a half pools - not just 2 extra lanes.The portfolio holder, Clrr Rowlands was asked at the O+S Ctee how and where the deficit would be made up. His answer was lamentable. At the time, I wondered if he had understood the question. Cllr Daly, the chair of O+S, was also of the opinion that Cllr Rowlands failed to address the question.

But then, look at the papers before this Cabinet. There is still no answer to this question. It would appear that the Council does not have an answer - in which case they should be honest and say so. But whichever way you look at it, the Pool is Too Small. It will be too small on the day it opens, and for the foreseeable future. It will be under pressure until such time, unknown, as the Council is able to conjure additional pool space somewhere in the District. It has taken the Council more than 15, or is it 20 years, to get the Westminster Lodge scheme this far (and, in the meantime, lost another pool). How long will it take to bring further capacity on stream (as it were!). This year? Next year? Sometime? Never?

Therefore, the PoolTooSmall campaign are absolutely and incontrovertibly correct. Their campaign is justified by the Council's own figures, and the O+S Ctee were right to decide as they did.

Now I want to turn to the idea that this is a larger concept - a multi-purpose Leisure Centre. Really? Can we believe what is being said? The citizens of St Albans are expected to be pleased at the generosity of the Council in providing a Health Spa, a Gym, a Cafe. In practice, this is sheer commercialism. (Note, this is a different matter to selling off the nearby contractors' depot to help fund the scheme - though this raises other issues.) These commercial elements have been included to make the pool viable.

The truth of the matter is that the size of the building has been increased, and extended into the Green Belt, in order to provide floorspace for revenue-earning facilities. But what, precisely, is proposed? Why is the Council seeking to provide expensive and exclusive facilities that are already well provided for by commercial operators? For example, Champneys Health Spa, Fitness First, Nuffield Health Club, and so on. What do these businesses think about this competition?

It may be that these operators will be concerned at this unfair competition. In which case it is necessary to ask why the Council is intending to compete in this way?

On the other hand, if the Council has judged the market incorrectly, and the facilities do not attract the clientele expected, where would this leave the citizens or, more correctly, the council tax payers, of St Albans? We do not know, because all of this is concealed in part 2 of tonight's agenda.

History records too many examples of Council projects that fail to meet deadlines and cost targets. I could mention the City of Bath which decided to proceed with a somewhat similar 'spa leisure complex' in 1996. The scheme opened three years late and £27 million over budget (see for example a recent article dated 2July 2010 http://www.bdonline.co.uk/news/bath-spa-compensation-revealed-as-%C2%A37-million/5002172.article ). It operates as a highly expensive facility available only to the well-heeled - not the sort of inclusive facility that this Council claims it is trying to achieve.

Now I want to turn to the position of the Abbey Theatre. The theatre has been on the site since the 1960's, and is an important cultural asset for the City. The Theatre, rightly, are seeking to ensure that their future position is protected and that they, too, have space to expand. The present proposal is very tightly drawn around the theatre site, with the building on one side and the access road on two sides. The effect is to remove much of their room for expansion. I understand that, although some options have been offered to the theatre, no agreement has as yet been reached.

Not all Cabinet members may be aware that the Abbey Theatre has a long lease on land that forms part of the planning permission. This is required for the service access road. Without the agreement of the Theatre, the development cannot proceed. Until the Council has a legal agreement in place, the planning permission cannot be implemented.

The Society takes the view that the Council cannot conceivably sign a construction contract in this situation. It would be wilful negligence on part of the Council. To have proceeded as far and as fast as it has smacks of financial incompetence and mismanage­ment. The Society calls into question the probity, competence and accountability of the Council.

To conclude:
  • the pool IS too small

  • the finances are questionable

  • the future of the Abbey Theatre is unresolved

  • the Council do not have the legal right to start construction on some of the land

The scheme should be re-thought, the overall vision should embrace the theatre, and a transparent, accountable process of decision-making set in place.

Thank you for your attention.

Thank you,Peter, for that excellent presentation. Let me conclude on behalf of us tonight . I've said it before in this Chamber and I'll
say it again . Project Team's shortcomings at all levels have been brutally exposed and no vote you make tonight changes that. Cabinet please have
courage and wisdom to go back to the drawing board - it's not too late. Re-assess and re-design everything from the bottom up with an
IN-HOUSE Chief Engineer on board which you should have had six, seven or eight years ago. In a few weeks , we could all be shaking hands on
a better, cost-neutral design modification .We could all be driving forward together as a united City , not a divided one on this issue as
we are at the moment to benefit our children , grandchildren and theirs yet to be born.

Chair,it's possible even now , Sir, if the political will is there ".

10 August 2010.



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