Sunday, June 07, 2009

City Pool Update

When we took Katy for her swimming lesson on Saturday morning the 'independent' market research people were there. They are called Total Research, an organisation that work through and for the council and are paid through the council payroll and the client for this survey is 'Leisure Services' at the council, but the gentleman assured me they pride themselves on being independent. They were giving out forms which involved a series of questions inviting further comment rather than yes/no/'choose the closest option' kind. One of the questions was 'did you know the small pool is going to close next year?' so it seems the 'done deal' is indeed considered to have been done.

Nice of them to do a consultation after they've decided the outcome!

Lots of people were rather exercised about the whole subject and I believe that they got a very vocal and negative response to the decision to alter the use of the building (or initially part thereof). Gentleman says he was surprised at the scale and level of feeling about the issue. Good!

I asked the gentleman whether once their report was complete I would be able to get a copy of it. As the report was commissioned by Leisure services it is the property of the council and it is up to them to decide whether to release it in whole or in part or not at all as they see fit. Hmm, maybe we require a little openness in local government here. So Newcastle City Council will you be letting me read this report and if so when? Gentleman says the report goes back to Leisure Services 2 weeks from Tuesday.

I understand that a certain Stephen Byers MP is a regular swimmer at City Pool I wonder what he thinks? Have you signed the petition yet? You might also be interested in this.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Newcastle City Pool Closure

The City Pool comprises two pools with the main pool being used by the public most of the time on week days. The smaller pool is used by schools and swimming squads of all ages for training and for adult classes.

Over the last month there have been many rumors about the closure of the City Pool. Numerous attempts by members of the public to obtain information from the Council were fruitless. Lots of phone calls, promises to call back not kept, appointments made and broken by the evasive councillors. The logic appears to be that we can't object if we don't know about the proposals for change of use of the baths. When people were seen taking measurements it transpired that the 'small' pool is threatened with complete closure. Whilst it is not a secret that the council have been trying to close the pool for years it is emerging that the council intend to use part of the building as a drug rehabilitation unit and have obtained a £5 million HLF grant.

A petition was gathered to be presented at Newcastle City Council Chamber by concerned swimmers. At the hour appointed for the council to discuss the proposals, petition organisers were informed that the meeting had been 'rearranged' for a later time. The councillor who put them self forward to speak on behalf of the swimmers to the council meeting, is, it transpires, also one of the key officials involved with the proposed the closure plan. Please consider adding your signature to the petition.

Apparently the council's position is that this is already a 'done deal'. In a chance encounter I obtained the details of the proposed closures today. These are: that the small pool be closed entirely; all different interest groups (classes, schools, swimming clubs, general public, etc.) who currently use the pool would henceforth be allotted a time in the large pool. For the general public this will mean that the new 'opening' hours will be Mon - Fri 08.00 - 10.00 and 12.00 - 14.00 a total of 4 hours per day (or 20 hours a week compared to 59 1/2 hours per week at present). It is unclear if there will be any public access on Saturday. Visit their website here for more information on the facilities currently available.

Staff at the pool confirmed that they forbidden from discussing these matters with the public. I also learned today that 'independent' officials will attend the pool on Friday, Saturday and Monday at about mid day with a view to canvasing opinion from the public although it is unclear whether this will later be trumpeted as belated and unpublicised consultation.

Having used the pool for 39 years, taught to swim there b
y my father, and with a child who is learning to swim there at the moment, three generations of my family have used the pool regularly. I have seen many attempts to close the pool in the past. The current strategy appears to be to make the use of the pool so inconvenient that numbers of swimmers are driven down and then the council will proceed with full closure on the grounds that the facility had insufficient numbers of users. Whilst the principle reason for coming to the pool may be to swim the additional business generated for local shops should not be underestimated and would be missed. The council are keen to point out as justification for closure that there is a pool being constructed as part of a sports complex on the same street. However what they fail to point out is that the University pool is a private pool for student only and none of the users of the City Pool will be allowed access.

Whilst there are other pools around the city this one retains a special and unique character with highly knowledgeable, long serving staff and lanes roped off and available for 'serious' swimming at all public sessions. Having two separate good sized pools allows for multiple use including by minority groups who need private swimming sessions and single sex swimming which are not possible elsewhere. The future of the Turkish Baths, Fitness Room and Sports Injury clinic would also appear to be in jeopardy.

We will be at the baths during one of the consultation events and will report back on what we learn. At a time when we are all being encourage to be more active, with a threat of growing number of people suffering ill health due to obesity and in complete contradiction with stated government policy to increase public swimming by allowing free entry for pensioners and children this proposed closure is contradictory and illogical.

Please feel free to comment if you know something we don't or if I have inadvertently misrepresented the council position. I am happy engage in debate.