A planning application to convert the former hydrotherapy pool at a Peterborough school to class rooms has come under fire from residents. “Why has demolition of St George’s hydrotherapy pool – a greatly valued community asset – taken place before planning permission for this redevelopment has been granted?” says one.
The application, on behalf of Peterborough City Council, says alternative hydrotherapy facilities were still available at others “such as the one at Lime Academy” but failed to mention the city council had pulled its funding for that six weeks earlier.
The city council is steaming ahead, however, with bringing the former hydrotherapy pool at the Heltwate school site at Dogsthorpe into the main school and to use the space for teaching.
“The pool was closed in 2022 by the Peterborough City Council cabinet, with hydrotherapy demand being taken up by other local pools such as the one at Lime Academy,” says Hamson Barron Smith, a design and building consultancy.
It is the same company used by the city council to design a £6.8m expansion to the Heltwate campus which opened earlier this year.
Supporters remain furious
Supporters of the former St George’s Hydrotherapy Pool have been furious that it was ripped up during the summer, destroying any last-minute hopes of a possible reprieve.
Cllr John Fox, who gained access to the pool to show the demolition, suspects the work was carried out to ensure it could never re-open, but he still wants to know why a contractor was brought in at this stage to carry out the demolition.
He said his visit was prompted by pool supporters asking him ‘why have they done that Foxy? If there is a logical reason for doing it now, then I would like to know what it is.”
But it has emerged there was little prospect, ever, of it being reprieved.
Heltwate head teacher Adam Brewster, in his July newsletter, said: “I am already getting excited about opening again for the autumn term. I know that our teaching team are busy planning and organising and have met many of our new parents and transition sessions are taking place.
“St George’s are planning to move into the old hydrotherapy site, and we have been meeting architects to look at improving facilities on the main site.”
One resident told the city council, after viewing the plans online: “Though sympathetic to the Heltwate School’s need to expand I am concerned by this particular application.
“Why has demolition of St George’s hydrotherapy pool – a greatly valued community asset – taken place before planning permission for this redevelopment has been granted?
“The application appears to contravene Peterborough’s Planning Policy – ‘LP 30 Culture, Leisure, Tourism and Community Facilities,’ which states the loss through redevelopment of existing facilities can only be permitted if, ‘the service provided by the facility is met by alternative provision that exists within reasonable proximity.’
“It is NOT true as stated in the design and access statement that ‘adequate [hydrotherapy] alternatives exist locally’. There are none. The proposed redevelopment of this community asset has left 4.5k registered, mostly disabled residents who relied on the hydrotherapy pool, without a service.
“The redevelopment of a hydrotherapy pool and plant room built in 1976 with known issues of chemical loss, asbestos insulated ceilings etc for a classroom, appears to be an unnecessarily complex and expensive option. Have any other sites, such as the open land next to the school been explored for this expansion?
Counting the cost of removing valuable service
Another resident said: “Although the provision of additional student accommodation and facilities is to be applauded, this is at the cost of the loss of the only community hydrotherapy pool in the city.
“Is it appropriate/legal to demolish the pool (a public asset) prior to the award of planning permission to convert the building?
“Has a detailed option study been undertaken to assess whether the use of public money on a 50+ year old building containing chlorine tanks, dosing equipment, pumps, filters, and heat exchanger as well as the pool structure is more cost effective than constructing a new building?
“Has the existing building been inspected for asbestos and RAAC?”
Hamson Barron Smith says the works involved are for the conversion of an on-site hydrotherapy pool for special needs teaching use and the associated work, namely: canopies, windows/doors, fencing and hard surfacing.
It says St Georges is part of Heltwate school, a highly regarded mixed day special school offering education for pupils aged 4-19 years.
Currently situated over two sites, the Heltwate main site is home to Reception to Key Stage 4 pupils and Heltwate St George’s in Lawn Avenue, Dogsthorpe is where Key Stage 4 and 5 young people are located (and is the application site).
“It is proposed to utilise the redundant on-site hydrotherapy pool area of the school for conversion, offering much a needed additional special needs teaching space and supporting safe outdoor spaces,” says the company.
The company also claims the application is “not odds with Planning Policy LP30: Culture, Leisure, Tourism and Community Facilities.
“Peterborough City Council itself decided to close the pool (effectively making to redundant and surplus to requirement), adequate alternatives exist locally”.
It says the extension will 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”.
Plans for extending school outlined
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 design statement adds: “There is little scope or need in the scheme for a radical ‘facelift’, any new window or door will match the more recent existing examples, new canopies fencing, surfacing etc will all be in keeping with the main school and the authority’s standards for school.
“Enhancements to the existing fabric of the affected building will be implemented as far as is practicable to at least meet the requirements of the current building regulations, for example by providing suitable insulation for energy efficiency and the use sustainable materials where possible.”
Hamson Barron Smith concludes: “We believe that the proposal will be a good example of a local authority making the most of its existing assets, while, like the rest of the school, not perfect nor a panacea for all the challenges that the school faces in 2023, it will help relieve some of the stress being borne by the staff with an ever changing and challenging task ahead.”
St George’s Friends and Service Users issued a statement earlier this year. Part of it said:
We are especially concerned for all those hydrotherapy users who regularly attended and depended on the public sessions at Lime Academy. However, we did advise that owing to a number of barriers the take-up for Lime Academy from St George’s former users was likely to be low.
We know the closure of St George’s continues to have a serious and negative impact on the health and wellbeing of so many of its former users, all of whom have disabilities or health conditions. Please be assured we will continue to do all we can do to try ensuring there will be short and long-term community hydrotherapy provision for those who need it the city.”
Heltwate School is a co-educational special school for children and young people aged 5 to 19 years with moderate to severe learning difficulties, autistic spectrum condition and additional medical needs. All children on roll at the school have an education, health, and care plan. The school is located in Heltwate, Bretton and also operates from the St George’s site on Lawn Avenue. The existing school site at Heltwate currently accommodates 202 children.
PETERBOROUGH CITY COUNCIL
The application is 23/01067/R3FUL, and you have time to submit your own comments Head to Peterborough City Council website and search for planning applications.
Application Summary Address: St Georges School Lawn Avenue Peterborough PE1 3RB Proposal: Conversion of the hydrotherapy pool building to include removal of existing pool and alterations to form additional classroom and school facilities, new external canopies in 2 new play areas, new hard surface ball court and new hard surface to form staff car park and new boundary fencing to north and east of site.
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