Freedom of Information requests revealed that Peterborough City Council spent £16,700 to demolish St George’s hydrotherapy pool which first opened in 1976 at Heltwate Special School, Peterborough. The pool closed in March 2020 as the Covid pandemic hit the country and never re-opened, leaving hundreds of children and adults with disabilities or long-term health conditions with few alternatives.
In July 2022 and despite widespread protests the council opted to close it permanently.
Read this & weep for the thousands of people with disabilities and long term conditions whose quality of life has been devastated in the name of what? First they came for our hydrotherapy pool, then they came for our speedway track/showground. Peterborough is losing its identity. https://t.co/NwFknAqswR
— Cllr Julie Stevenson (@CllrJulieS) November 21, 2023
Former council leader Wayne Fitzgerald has previously spoken of having “a great deal of sympathy” for those who used it but re-iterated, as recently as in a June 2023 interview, the service is “not something the council provides”.
He told supporters of the pool to “lobby the health service via MPs because it is a health provision, it is not something the council do, we don’t provide NHS services”.
“Let me re iterate we don’t provide hydrotherapy services what we are trying to do is encourage the private sector to provide these services and if they see there is a need for them, they can at least break even because a lot of people are doing this – the end of the day this is a medical matter, not a council matter.
“We would encourage all people in need of that service to lobby NHS to commission it in Peterborough.”
His support for the pool’s demolition, however, continues to anger the St George’s Hydrotherapy Users group whose Freedom of Information requests unveiled the demolition costs.
Karen Oldale, St George’s Friends, and Service Users’ Lead said: “I find it extraordinary and am appalled that that the former leader and deputy of Peterborough’s cash-strapped council requested the demolition of St George’s at a cost of £16,705.21 plus VAT before any alternative plans for the hydrotherapy site had even been submitted.
“It appears it was to ensure that pool, that had improved the health, wellbeing, and independence of so many residents who were disabled, injured or ill, could never be re-opened and used again.
“It’s an incredibly shocking and heart-breaking reason.”
Karen added: “I thought councils were supposed to look after the best interests of its residents – especially its most vulnerable ones.
“I also find it concerning to learn that no written instructions for such a potentially significant decision exist.”
Other service users have reacted to the latest revelation with many saying they remain upset, disheartened, and incredulous that such thing could be allowed to happen.
One former health professional who knew the pool and its users well said: “This is absolutely shocking, and to make it worse they made this decision with no remorse.
“It’s unbelievable and I am speechless.”
The health professional said: “The pool helped so many people of Peterborough and that’s their response – appalling.
“For me, they should be made to pay the costs to return it to as it was and sit and watch the deterioration that some of those patients are now going through because of their selfish ideas.
“It was proved that users improved because of the pool and medication was decreased”
The ex-physio added: “Why should I trust another politician or councillor?”
Karen added: “I think St George’s hydrotherapy service users – some of whom are our most vulnerable residents – have been very badly treated.
“I hope all councillors can now work quickly and constructively together to remedy this and ensure there will be a positive outcome for St George’s users and the future of community hydrotherapy, which can benefit everyone, in our city.”
Her Freedom of Information responses also reveal the timetable the city council put in place to decommission the pool.
The works commenced in August 2022 and were completed in June 2023, broken down as follows:
29/07/2022 – Drain down pool for decommissioning.
09/08/2022 – Strip out boiler room boilers. pumps, calorifier, filter and pipework, including pool plant.
12/09/22 – Asbestos survey
23/11/22 – Asbestos removal
23/22/22 – Isolate all power to the plant room.
18/01/2022 Patch repair holes in roof following removal of boiler flues
02/06/2023 – Break out pool
However, when asked to provide “all the recorded information (emails, contracts, studies etc) that relate to the instructions to demolish St George’s Community Hydrotherapy Pool”, the city council was unable to.
Their response was that there were “no written instructions “and that the head of service had “verbally instructed Aragon Direct Services (the city council owned trading company) via telephone following the Cabinet decision.
“A further verbal instruction followed in late May / June to remove pool base in preparation for site handover.”
The council response added: “The decision to close the pool was made by the Cabinet in July 2022. The then leader and deputy leader of the council subsequently requested that the pool be fully decommissioned in order to ensure that the decision not to reopen could be properly actioned.”
The city council was unable to provide, as requested by the pool supporters group, “a copy of the feasibility report that was requested by the service director for education for St George’s Community Hydrotherapy Pool to be converted for use by Heltwate School”.
The council instead sent a copy of the Cabinet report of July 11, 2022, which agreed the closure before adding that if the feasibility report were to be released they would have “had to apply redaction as the information is considered exempt.
“The exemption applied is Section 43 – commercial interests. This exemption applies because the information requested is commercially sensitive information, the release of which would be likely to prejudice the council’s commercial interests
“The public interest test has been applied, and the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.
“The council understands that there is merit in releasing as much information as possible in order to assist public understanding of how public funds are being spent.
“In this case, the council considers that protecting commercial confidentiality ensures that the council achieves best value and outcome for the residents of the city, and therefore protects public funds
“We have therefore concluded that it is not in the public interest to release the requested information”
The council confirmed the cost of demolition was £16,705.21 plus VAT and that no ‘hard documentation’ was held.
The council also confirmed that the decommissioning commenced immediately after the Cabinet report in July / August 2022 when the decision was taken to permanently close the facility.
“It has been happening over many months (decommissioning boilers / removing pipework and structure etc),” says the city council.
“Authority was granted in the Cabinet meeting in July 2022 when the decision was made to permanently close the facility – after which the service lead at that time instructed the demolition based on that Cabinet decision.”
The council response added: “Peterborough City Council officers have been working with the school to be able to submit the planning application and this has now happened. This is available to view on the council’s planning portal. (This is for conversion of the pool building to form an additional classroom and school facilities).
“Plans for Dr Modha are now being considered for the Thistlemoor site (planning application is on the portal). We also made reference to operating a subsidised trial at the Lime Academy which we hoped would prove to be a viable alternative, but this was found to be unsustainable for the reasons previously shared (lack of uptake to make it financially viable etc).”
As previously reported by CambsNews the pool area will be used as a school extension to provide “a safe, secure, and flexible additional special needs equipped teaching space both linked and integrated with the main school but also acting as a self-sufficient wing.
“It will release teaching ‘pressure points’ from within the main school especially with regard to the older end of the school”.
The old pool surround will be removed, and the basin infilled “to produce a generous classroom space with store and calm room. The remaining changing rooms etc. will be adapted provide toilets, hygiene room, meeting/group/staff rooms”.
The old entrance lobby will become a breakout area for the older students, with a secure external door.
The existing outside area of mainly uneven asphalt will be repaired and resurfaced, while most of the area “will be enjoyed by the children in the form of fenced-off play areas, there is space enough for a small but much needed staff carpark.
“A new fenced and netted ballcourt will be formed with the fencing lines of the site being revised around it accordingly. Two new canopies will be installed to ensure the external spaces can be in part used in all weather”.
- The pool was demolished 02.06.23. The initial application form to convert the pool into a classroom is dated 11.08.23.
- St George’s had 4500 registered users. Around 250 people used the pool each week. It was open 50 weeks per year = 12,500 visits p.a. St George’s was delivering £1,525,000 economic and social value in 15/16 which was £16 for every £1 invested. http://www.hydrotherapypeterborough.com/shared/attachments.asp?f=bd2211a6-8244-459a-b5ff-847b04295815.pdf&o=Theory-of-change-Report–St-George’s-Hydrotherapy-Pool-Final.pdf
St George’s Pool Users group says the main question remains unanswered and that are the documents relating to the decision “and the work to demolish St George’s before (apparently) an application and planning permission had been granted to convert the pool area for Heltwate School”.
The July 2022 Cabinet report added: “In brief, the existing alternatives include:
- Addenbrookes Hospital, where we understand those with a medical need can be referred by their GP or specialist
- Potentially, facilities at a private care home in Peterborough. At time of writing, officers are awaiting further information from this provider
- The Regional Pool training pool – however, following representation from the Friends of St George’s User Group, who visited the Regional Pool recently to assess the viability of the training pool, this suggestion is no longer recommended”.
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