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Correspondence between Mr N.H. and Cllr Witherick

15 March 2010, 10:17 Mr N.H. to Cllr Witherick...

I hope that you are able to make further representations to the planning committee regarding this ill conceived and hopelessly inadequate application.

Best regards

15 March 2010, 12:46 Cllr Witherick to Mr N.H...

Thank you for your detailed e-mail.

I personally did look in to a number of the issues that you raise because I wanted to be convinced that what was being proposed was both appropriate, affordable and realistic.
I am not one for voting for something simply because someone else believes it's the best option- be it an individual, political party or the public.

Being elected I have to go through the detail, both that available to the public, and the confidential information as well.  I say this as I also did look at some of these companies which offer to build your leisure center and lease it back/run it etc.

There was no way to justify a 50m pool in terms of the additional costs.  This is both in the building and investment and the longer term running costs.  Bare in mind that the initially outlay for solar panels/solar heating will be huge and would not provide a large enough saving to make it cost neutral to the best of my knowledge.
In terms of running costs the result would either be:
a) Higher subsidy from the District Council tax payer = higher Council Tax Bills
b) Higher charges to users as doubling the size will not necessarily double the usage
Can you tell me where we would be able to find the additional capital requirement having already been criticized for finding the current capital needs?

Your mention of the University is of particular interest.  They designed a dedicated sports village.  They have access to more funding sources than the council.  They have the ability to ensure, through UNO that the public transport links come to the University campus.  The venue is more easily reached from St Albans, Welwyn, Hatfield and other areas plus those who go to Oaklands College from further afield etc than Westminster Lodge or any of our other possible sites.
However, when the University came to do the numbers they couldn't get it to work, even with a starting point of nearly 24,000 students.

If you know a way to make it viable then please, please do contact me urgently and I will progress the issue personally.  However a lot of people have looked at this in some depth and no one has found a realistic, workable, solution.


15 March 2010 15:17 Mr N.H. to Cllr Witherick...

Many thanks for your swift reply.
I am very disappointed, as your response would suggest that spending £19-25M on a project that is already only just sufficient to meet what was the current need before the closure of Bricket wood is fine, even though this too would also saddle all of us with a significant debt for the next 25 years.  Coincidentally the life expectancy of this project and so the time that it will have to last before a replacement can be considered while we pay off this debt.
The existing pool is already over subscribed with users all pulling in different directions, which in itself drives many potential users away, like myself. The only reason that I have joined a local club with a pool, is because I was fed up with paying premium prices to go casual swimming with my son in a roped of section of a pool in which doing more than have a splash about was impossible, and this was after visiting many of the public pools in the local area trying to find decent facilities, when I wanted to use them – after school and at weekends(not unreasonable). All were under immense pressure from many users and casual swimming local  tax paying customers were at the bottom of the pecking order at all of them.
If a decent facility was built at Westminster lodge, I am sure new users would flock to make use of it, however in our back to front way of doing things in this country we have to put the cart before the horse and this will be another case in point where I am sure in just a few years time (2012/13) we will see headlines in our local papers stating what a waste of money the current proposal, if built, has turned out to be, as it will already be too small and inadequate for the rapidly growing local population and its needs. Just one example is the planned new schools for ST Albans that will all require pool space for lessons.
As for cost, we are one of the richest Counties in the country and St. Albans is one of the wealthiest districts within the County. Looking around I see that Watford have not only been able to find the money to replace the 60 odd year old Central pool, but have also found the money to build a new facility at Woodside. Hertsmere too have found the wherewithal to build a new pool and sports complex In Aldenham road and keep the main pool in Borehamwood, Stevenage have recently greatly improved their existing facility, Hatfield have their main pool and have been able to benefit from the University pool facility as well, I could go on. In each case funds have been found to get the projects completed.
In St Albans we close a facility, Bricket wood, as part of this new scheme two years before the necessary improvements at Westminster lodge have been built – a good plan in itself (skeptics might argue that this was deliberate in the hope that these users would make permanent alternative arrangements and so not impact on the new facility by visiting it), and are now planning to replace a 30 year old facility with something that is in real terms smaller than that which it is supposed to improve on (the existing pool was built against a planned need that was predicted in the early 1970’s and too be fair has done remarkably well to date). The new facility only just meets the perceived existing need and makes absolutely no provision for the dramatic increase in population planned for the area over the next few years and it only has a planned life expectancy of about 25 years. Why is this when in 1934 Watford borough were able to build a facility that lasted for 60 years.
Finally a specific comment re the solar heating of this facility. I accept that there is a “high upfront” cost to install this from day one and maybe it is not the best plan financially as things stand today, however ask any energy pricing expert, which way the cost of energy will go over the next few years and the only answer that you will hear is Up and in most cases up quite fast. I would strongly suggest that within a very few years solar heating of this facility would be saving money on a day to day basis far in excess of covering the cost of the loans required to cover the initial outlay.
At the very least the facility should be built with very serious consideration put into installing significant parts of a solar heating system that would be particularly difficult or expensive to install at a later date, as to not do so would result in this option never being a cost effective solution over the 25 year life of the building.   With these parts in place it would be a much easier decision to take, to install solar heating, once the energy price and cost of solar collectors cross over as they surely will long before the end of life planned for this building.
I am, as I am sure you are aware, very hopeful that this planning application will be turned down, even though I understand the outcome if it is. I for one would rather have no debt burden than a debt burden for an inadequate facility.
Best regards