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Wayne Fitzgerald accuses Peterborough City Council leader of ‘ongoing amnesia’ over regional pool

‘Conservatives had started to develop plans to replace the regional pool in Peterborough’

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Wayne Fitzgerald, the former leader of Peterborough City Council, hit back at critics who he claims have, unfairly, accused him of not having a plan to replace the regional fitness and swimming pool. He may have a point.

Cllr Fitzgerald, who remains Conservative opposition leader on the council, fired off a letter last night (seen by Cambs News) to chief executive Matt Gladstone questioning comments made during a Cabinet meeting that he had done little or nothing to replace the pool.

He is furious that no acknowledgement was made of the previous administration in working towards a new pool and accused the current Cabinet of “ongoing amnesia” when it comes to accepting it had been previously discussed.

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Cllr Christian Hogg, during yesterday’s Cabinet debate, agreed that Cllr Fitzgerald had spoken “numerous times” about “advanced plans for the pool”.

But he pressed the new council leader Mohammed Farooq and asked if he was aware of any plans in place, how advanced they were or was this “just kind of fairy tale time”.

Cllr Farooq replied that “As the leader I haven’t seen any plans on my table or if there are any, officers haven’t brought to my attention.

“But I’m going to pass it on to officers and see if there are any plans and if there’s any funding already secured”.

Turning to Rob Hill, service director for housing and community, he asked: “Rob, are you able to answer that or do you want me to take it away?”

Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald: ‘Let me reiterate I / we the Conservatives had started to develop plans to replace the regional pool with a new pool and leisure facility some time ago’ PHOTO: Terry Harris

Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald: ‘Let me reiterate I / we the Conservatives had started to develop plans to replace the regional pool with a new pool and leisure facility some time ago’ PHOTO: Terry Harris

Mr Hill replied: “I’ll just say that we set out that we now need to do a detailed business case which is what we will be doing.

“There have been initial engagements with other areas to look at the art of the possible but the whole point of this paper (the report prepared for Monday’s meeting on closure of the pool and proposals for a new pool) is to say that we actually go away and do a detailed plan now.”

Cllr Hogg remarked: “So no oven ready deal was ready to go?.”

Again, Cllr Farooq remarked that “I haven’t seen any, but I pass it to councillor Hiller (Cllr Peter Hiller is Cabinet Member for Housing, Growth and Regeneration”.

Cllr Hiller agreed he hadn’t seen any plans for a new pool, but he had seen “election literature from a couple of years ago pledging £ 36million for a new facility; nothing since then I’m afraid.”

Peterborough City Council leader Mohammed Farooq, who took office after Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald was ousted as leader in November, faces his first, and challenging, oversight of 2024/25 council budget. PHOTO: Terry Harris

Council leader Cllr Mohammed Farooq said that he had never seen “any plans on the table” for a new swimming pool. However, officers sidestepped his question to them when he turned to ask one of them. PHOTO: Terry Harris

But as CambsNews has reported earlier this week a replacement pool had been discussed and at one point Cabinet agreed to approve a new regional pool facility on Pleasure Fair Meadows and recommended putting £38m in the budget to build it.

And it is the spadework put in by the previous administration that Cllr Fitzgerald wants acknowledged.

“I and my Conservative colleagues feel that officers when questioned and particularly the two present today did not entirely or fairly reflect all the facts during the meeting,” he told the chief executive in his letter.

“Let me reiterate I / we the Conservatives had started to develop plans to replace the regional pool with a new pool and leisure facility some time ago.

“This did not mean, and we have never said it did that we had a fully fleshed out business case, but It is definitely true as you well know that we did have a long-term plan and aspired to provide a new pool and gym ASAP.

“This information was publicised in the local press long before the temporary closure last year.”

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He also said closure of the pool “was a decision made by officers and not the Conservative administration as is being reported.

“This was done purely on health and safety grounds whilst awaiting a condition report following the discovery of RACC.

“It is also not true to say that there had been a lack of investment in the regional pool in fact to the contrary – but one has to accept it was coming to the end of its working life and nobody is to blame for that. The RACC issue was final death knell though. There are published press articles that can back up our / my position on this.”

Cllr Fitzgerald added: “It was certainly the case that discussions with operators were ongoing for some time with potential partners last year and one in particular being Pulse Fitness.

“Granted this interest fell away towards the end of last year but none the less we were pursuing this idea or plans as I call them with Jamie Fenton (Partnership Manager – Culture, Sport, and Leisure at Peterborough City Council) and Nick Carter (Service Director. Growth &. Regeneration), who were leading on this work at my request.

“I personally had many conversations with you and members of the growth and regeneration team regarding this matter and even on potential new sites – the favoured being adjacent to the current location on Bishops Road.

“This change of preferred location was of course as a result of Pleasure Fair Meadow being no longer an option as Cllr Hiller, rather foolishly in my opinion, signed it over it over to a third party.”

(EDITORIAL NOTE: We have withheld two paragraphs about this agreement and which Cllr Fitzgerald then mentions, for legal reasons).

The Conservative leader said: “To be clear it is the current administration that has now made the decision to permanently close the pool facility and now they should take responsibility for that decision and set out clearly their plans to replace it – today they did not do that.”

His letter to the chief executive and copied to other councillors, added: “I hope you will now correct the record on this to all concerned by way of a response to this email and also inform the current Cabinet of the actual facts surrounding this as it seems they know nothing about it according to the leader.

“Not surprising given the levels of ongoing amnesia that still persists amongst them.”

James Fenton, the council’s partnership manager for culture, sport, and leisure, told Cabinet – which approved demolition of the current pool and to press ahead with a replacement – that an interim solution is being considered.

He said a temporary modular pop-up pool might be possible and the option is being priced up and considered.

Finding a suitable location was one of the next steps.

Cllr Hiller told Cabinet colleagues he was fed up with “political shenanigans” surrounding the decision to close the pool in Bishop’s Road.

“The Conservative administration closed the pool in September last year and frankly for the Conservative MP of our city (Paul Bristow) to suggest that apparently we can open the door and let the good folk of this city in is, for many different reasons, just not feasible.

“Not least of which is we wouldn’t be covered by any public liability insurance as I understand it the structure is deemed to be dangerous.

“I have already mentioned the RAAC concrete issue on the roof and I think what we have to bear mind is that this is a huge swimming facility and so water is heated, heat creates condensation moisture, so it is like a sauna any aerated concrete that we have that’s deficient in the roof of that building, the condition and the situation there is exacerbated by that atmosphere.

“Frankly, I wouldn’t want anybody that I know and love to go into a swimming pool and potentially have lumps of concrete falling on them from a great height. The scenario is just bonkers.”

 

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