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3 years ago Peterborough City Council voted to replace regional swimming pool – so what happened?

2nd time in three and a half years Peterborough City Council faces a decision on ageing pool

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Peterborough City Council is being forced to take its head out of the sand and reach a decision having committed more than 3 years ago to replace its ailing regional fitness and swimming pool. A little publicised 72-page feasibility study commissioned in March 2020 concluded that the pool, built in 1976, and last refurbished in 2011, “is coming to the end of its useful operational life”.

Despite re-assurances from the then Conservative run council, the setting up of a working party, funding in principle agreed, a replacement or even mention of repair was quietly dropped.

But the scale of the problems surfaced dramatically last year after the discovery of RAAC (Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete) and the need to remove asbestos. Twice before it closed after Legionella was found in the water system.

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Now the pool in Bishops Road is set for demolition after a new report found it unviable to even provide a ‘quick fix’ to extend its life.

Which means that for the second time in three and a half years, Peterborough City Council faces a decision on the ageing pool having previously agreed in November 2020 to replace it.

And this time round it will be a Cabinet chaired by new leader Cllr Mohammed Farooq tasked with agreeing a way forward.

Peterborough City Council says RACC has also been found in the regional fitness and swimming centre but as this is currently closed for asbestos removal “there is no date for reopening at this stage”.

The condition of the regional swimming pool at Peterborough has been a known cause for concern at the city council for some years. Picture by Terry Harris.

The 2020 study was conducted by Paul Weston Architect who had been appointed by Peterborough Investment Partnership (PIP) to undertake an initial high-level options appraisal for the replacement of RFSC on the Pleasure Fairs Meadow site in Peterborough.

PIP was the joint development company set up to the city council in 2015 to bring forward a number of major projects including Fletton Quays.

One of the outcomes of the November 2020 Cabinet meeting, which agreed in principle to go ahead with a new pool, was the setting up of a working group.

It comprised Cllr Steve Allen, Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald, Cllr David Seaton (no longer a councillor) and Cllr Irene Walsh (also no longer a councillor), and appropriate officers “in order to consider the detail of the project with regard to, among other things, the potential provision of a hydrotherapy pool”.

Cllr Allen told the December meeting of full council in December 2020 that the remit of the working group was also to consider the future of The Lido.

He also confirmed, in response to a question from Cllr Shabina Qayyum, that the intention “was to maintain the current St George’s Hydrotherapy Pool for as long as possible, however it was only reasonable to include this provision in scoping proposals for the new site.

“The working group would consider this in more depth”.

Ironically when questioned in more detail by one member, Cllr Fitzgerald replied that the “decision had already been taken by Cabinet and any further delays would also delay the ongoing project”.

Minutes from the Cabinet meeting of November 30 shed more light on the decision-making process.

It is clear that councillors agreed that a replacement was preferable as a “new specialist pool would be a better value choice than investing further in an ageing facility”.

Cabinet was told Pleasure Fair Meadows car park was the preferred site and the proposal included a pool of eight lanes and a teaching pool. The facility would also include a gym, four court sports hall, and exercise, yoga, and café facilities.

CambsNews understands that a new survey report for Peterborough City Council – who run the pool – has estimated it will at least £10million and maybe even £15million to re-open the regional pool in Bishop’s Road

The condition of the regional swimming pool at Peterborough has been a known cause for concern at the city council for some years.

It would remain a 25-metre pool, as the increase in cost for the maintenance of a 50-metre pool would worsen the revenue of the facility.

But, as Macmillan once observed, ‘events dear boy events’, the path to success in government is riddled with uncertainties.

One, for example, was the assumption back in 2020 that the PIP would take the lead of development and planning of the pool. PIP is now in the process of being wound up having fulfilled its principal mission at Fletton Quays, although when the 2020 report was written it was expected they would be equal partners in financing and building a new pool.

Cabinet too was hopeful of including a hydrotherapy pool with the minutes noting that “council had supported the maintenance of a hydrotherapy pool in the past. It was suggested that a dialogue could be opened up with the Clinical Commissioning Group in relation to the hydrotherapy pool once more”.

Cabinet agreed to approve the purchase of a new Regional Pool facility on Pleasure Fair Meadows from the Peterborough Investment Partnership (PIP), and they also agreed to:

1: Recommend to full council an amendment to the council’s budget to include capital purchase costs up to the level indicated in this report of £38m, subject to conditions.

2: Approve an investment into PIP of up to 49 per of the project development costs

3: Delegate to officers to “negotiate the terms of the investment and enter the necessary legal documents to facilitate the delivery of this project”.

.The condition of the pool has been a known cause for concern at the city council for some years.

Councillors were told in 2020 that “keeping it open for the next decade is not cost effective as significant additional short-term works are needed to keep the premises open and there would still be a need to procure and finance a replacement facility.

“The plant and equipment in the regional pool are ageing and the facilities on offer fall short of what is now commonly expected by users.

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“It is no longer wholly fit for purpose”.

The report also mentioned the site’s proximity to the university and while the plant and equipment is approaching end of life “the building itself is structurally sound and could potentially be repurposed for university related uses”.

Provision of leisure within Peterborough – and an urgent need for it – is a recurrent theme running through council reports.

For example, a review conducted in 2017, funded by Sports England, indicated that Peterborough has a shortage of 9X25m swimming pool lanes relative to the English average level of provision per head of population.

Given the anticipated growth of the city this shortfall could rise to 14 lanes by 2035 (equivalent to two additional pools).

The city council agreed replacement of the regional pool “needs to be viewed against the wider context of the council’s review of its leisure facilities within which the creation of a new swimming centre at Werrington is also being investigated.

“The research evidence is clear that the city can easily sustain two 25m swimming pools and in due course is likely to need a third”.

Councillors were advised that experts who had reviewed the options, reinforced those of earlier studies “and highlight an underlying shortfall of wet-side leisure space, a view shared by external bodies such as Sports England and Swim England”

Back in 2020 the council were looking at possible sites for a new pool and these were:

  1. a) Wellington Street Car Park.
  2. b) Northminster.
  3. c) North Westgate.
  4. d) Mayors Walk.
  5. e) Maskew Avenue.
  6. f) Pleasure Fair Meadows Car Park.

Pleasure Fair Meadows Car Park was considered the best option although the site was owned by P.I.P (Pleasure Fairs) Limited although it is zoned for development including leisure related uses.

Since it is a co-owner of the PIP, the city council said it would benefit as shareholder from dividends distributed from any profit on construction costs.

The council proposed entering into a contract to acquire the completed site once the PIP obtained planning consents and built the leisure centre.

What remains certain from the deliberations of more than three years ago, are the conclusions put to councillors.

These included assessments from officers that:

1: It is not in the city’s nor the council’s best interests from either a public health or financial perspective, to continue investing in the existing regional pool facility without a clear, long-term strategy for replacing “this well-used and much-needed asset”.

2: The existing regional pool is nearing the end of its useful operational life and its closure without a replacement “would have significant negative impacts”.

3: The development of a new facility on Pleasure Fair Meadows offers an opportunity to replace the regional pool “in a timely fashion with a modern, fit for purpose centre that will help to meet identified user needs”.

4: It is more cost effective to invest in new facilities now “rather than sink costs in existing facilities that will need replacing in the medium term”.

Whichever way their decision making goes tomorrow, the new Cabinet of Peterborough City Council will be fully aware of the changing financial world since 2020 and Covid

Costs have risen, dramatically, as evidenced locally by the Hilton Hotel debacle.

And in 2020 borrowing costs were lower than now, and Cabinet will be reminded of city council finance chiefs telling them in January 2022 that there could be “no new borrowing unless failure to do so would result in a breach of our health and safety/statutory duties”.

The finance boffins also warned that “all borrowing for projects that will result in future savings should have a payback period of five years or less, fully grant funded with no revenue cost impact”.

The council underwent “a review of current governance and controls, with stricter arrangement and greater oversight and ownership of all capital priorities and expenditure at a senior level and with appropriate member involvement”.

All of which contributes to the financial challenge facing Cabinet on Monday.

They will also have, ringing in their ears, the thoughts of MP Paul Bristow, whose criticisms of the new administration coincide with the Conservatives losing control, after two decades, of the city council last November.

He believes that “in the short term we need a pool open for the public now – and this is in the gift of the council.

“We should make do and mend with what we have so that people have access now and think about the long-term plan of a new pool later”.

With an estimated £26m needed for repairs – more than twice the estimate of four years ago – a make do, and mend approach remains unlikely.

On moral, legal, ethical and health and safety grounds – and that’s just for starters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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