Further opposition to Westminster Lodge swimming pool size

PUBLISHED: 11:10 08 April 2010 | UPDATED: 15:02 06 May 2010

SIR – May I respond to the letters by the council and its project architect attempting to discredit my Q&A letter kindly published by you on February 24. Let me set them straight, not only as a frontline user and operations expert regarding Westminster Lo

SIR - May I respond to the letters by the council and its project architect attempting to discredit my Q&A letter kindly published by you on February 24.

Let me set them straight, not only as a frontline user and operations expert regarding Westminster Lodge for 37 years, but also as a professional systems analyst and engineering project manager for 40 years. Council and architect cannot bring themselves to even utter the words we professionals use, i.e. Maximum Bather Load (MBL) and Pool Overload.

I repeat that the MBL of the proposed new 25-metre by eight-lane main pool is 142, only a derisory nine more than the present main pool provided in 1971!

The proposed learner pool, whatever its size, is by its nature a quiet, protected place used by complete novices often with parents helping babies and small children to learn to swim, sometimes with a teacher in attendance. No competent swimmer ever goes near a learner pool if they want a proper swim - their choice is always the main pool.

So let me now project forwards the WLLC overloads of 2009, but now applied to the New Westminster Lodge a few years hence. Imagine it is the summer following the year the New Westminster Lodge opened with its proposed main and learner pools. The lunchtime lane swimming finished at 1.30pm and the afternoon general session is well under way. The people are flocking to it boosted by Bricket Wood having closed, the government swimming scheme and the glitzy new sales "swim and gym" package.

Reception is admitting customers who naturally head for either the main pool or the learner pool (it's Toddlers' Splash day today) as usual. At 2.10pm the duty manager realises that the Main Pool is about to go into overload (142 MBL) and has no choice, for health and safety reasons, but to tell reception to refuse further entry to it.

Reception now gives a Lodge customer of 35 years standing a choice of going home or to Hemel or Hatfield or to the learner pool (Toddlers' Splash) but it is nearly full of novices, parents, babies and small children so please don't disturb them or make a noise.

His anger is palpable as he completes a complaint form. After decades of swimming his mile in the old 33-metre pool, now demolished, he had been expecting a 25-metre pool swim and has been palmed off with "go home or have a nearly full Toddlers' Splash learner pool"!

Three experienced teenage swimmers expecting to strut their stuff in the main pool make their displeasure felt in the learner pool as they re-enact their school 100-metre butterfly race! A tsunami ensues and the duty manager closes the learner pool down for Health and Safety reasons.

He then emails SADC to tell them that this would never have happened if they had listened to www.pooltoosmall.com the user professionals. Do I, he asks, have 25 years at least of this nightmare and worse when that SADC architect said, it "will raise the standard of leisure and sporting facilities in our city"? Dream on!

The moral of this story? Never ever insult and mislead the people by pretending a learner pool for toddlers and other novices could be the overflow for an inadequate 25-metre by eight-lane main pool. It is crass, it is unforgivable and it is atrocious planning.

If SADC provided a 25-metre by at least 10-lane main pool we could all celebrate overload-free swimming in the main pool for decades, and the learner pool would be a tranquil beginner's dream! Rest assured, I have analysed demand for the main pool lifetime whereas SADC don't even know how to.

And a bonus - a 10-lane 25-metre main pool meets all regional competition requirements with two lanes to spare! Pressure group www.pooltoosmall.com says: "Reject this £26.776 million disaster. It is not too late!"

Let politicians define general policy, architects design pleasing structures but let us professionals do the key demand projection, analysis, deduction, engineering specification and execution.

You have all been warned - political dogma in this case is unacceptable and unforgivable.

I say this for our great city's people, our children, grandchildren and future generations yet to be born.

DAVID L GILROY

Eur Ing, MSc, CEng, MIET

Park Avenue, St Albans

SIR - In the Herts Advertiser Sheila Burton gives the impression that the ASA recommended a 25-metre pool. This is untrue.

Back in 2005, I was chairman of our Community Sports Network. We had a presentation from a sports consultant outlining the various options. It was clear to me at this early point that the 25-metre pool was the council choice, and would happen regardless of any public consultations

With this in mind, I contacted my friend David Sparkes, chief executive of the ASA, and asked him to come to St Albans and make a presentation to Sheila and the recreation manager.

David was in favour of a 50-metre pool, observing that every such facility that had been constructed had been engulfed by swimmers. Supply created demand.

It was true that St Albans was not in the ASA's master plan for a 50-metre pool and that it was more expensive, but as far as Sparkes was concerned, that was irrelevant. St Albans was a rich town, and could easily justify and fund an Olympic-size pool. The local support for a cinema, with £1m raised, now provides ample evidence of this.

Which leads me to Mr Simpson, though I would observe that many might feel that his vested interest might serve to temper our view of his opinions. He observes that a 50-metre pool is not in the ASA's regional strategy.

This is irrelevant. There are thriving sports facilities of all types all over the country which lie outside NGB strategies and local communities would be substantially the poorer without them.

David Sparkes of the ASA was categoric that an Olympic-size pool was the right option for St Albans, whatever his national strategy said. There is simply no getting away from that.

TOM MCNAB

Hillside Road, St Albans

SIR - I've recently read in your pages that the expected cost of the new 25-metre pool (plus a learner pool and fitness suites, exercise studios, climbing wall, sports hall, creche, café and spa) is almost £27million.

I've also read that St Albans Council believe that to provide a pool of twice this size, would cost twice as much.

Meanwhile the good people at Hillingdon Council have just opened, for their residents, a sports and leisure complex including two 50-metre pools (one indoor and one lido), along with an athletics track with a covered grandstand, floodlit five-a-side astro pitches, a gym, exercise studios, badminton courts, netball courts, a creche, a café, a restaurant, a conference room, a spin studio (whatever that is), and a sports hall. All for the princely sum of £31million (source: London Borough of Hillingdon).

Seems like council tax payers in Hillingdon are getting a much better deal. Time for our council to order a rethink?

BRIAN PARKER

Orient Close, St Albans

SIR - I felt I couldn't let the letter from Peter Simpson of

S&P Architects pass without comment.

Whilst he has very likely done an excellent job designing the proposed new Westminster Lodge swimming pool and leisure complex, he can only design what he has been instructed to design.

That doesn't make his design the best option for the people of St Albans. I am certainly not challenging his credentials as an architect but I am quite sure that if he had been given the correct instructions he would have designed an even better leisure complex that no-one would be arguing with!

I feel that Mr Simpson is either naïve or trying to mislead people when he states that the extra capacity for swimmers will be 48 not nine.

As Mr Gilroy stated in his letter that Mr Simpson's is in reply to, the main pool will only cater for nine extra swimmers. Mr Gilroy made no comments regarding the training pool.

If, as Mr Simpson implies, competent swimmers are to be sent to swim in the training pool at peak times, with no detrimental effect on parents with young children or those learning to swim, why doesn't he suggest putting everyone in together from the off?

Also, would the depth of the training pool be increased when/if the general public overflow is added to those the training pool is meant for?

If the design is a result of public consultation, perhaps not enough members of the public had the chance to state their opinions. Of course the swimming clubs would be pleased with a pool that gives preferential treatment to their needs.

If a larger pool was offered I think they would be even happier, for if the idea of swimming clubs is to achieve excellence, then a 50-metre pool would be twice as good for them, and what an amazing legacy that would be to raise the level of British swimming for future Olympic games.

If a pool with good diving facilities had been offered to the divers, I rather think they would be all for that.

From correspondence in your paper and on the www.newpooltoosmall.com website, only two options were offered, neither of which was suitable for all pool users.

Mr Simpson states that the University of Hertfordshire is the preferred site for a 50-metre pool. That may well be the case but if there is no 50-metre pool there, nor approved plans for one to be built there in the imminent future, his argument is irrelevant. Identifying the best site for a facility does not put whatever that facility is in that place.

He also states that sustainability is high on the agenda and argues against a bigger pool because of the increased cost of running it. What about the damage done to the environment by having car-loads of people who want diving facilities travelling to Hemel Hempstead (approximately 14 miles round trip), Luton, if that idea materialises (approximately 28 miles round trip) or Hatfield (approximately 10 miles round trip), or to a 'best site' for a 50-metre non-existent pool in Hatfield if they want a longer pool to swim in?

The proposed new pool is planned for only 25 years and is already too small, even though it is still at the planning stage. Since St Albans has a growing population, Bricket Wood pool has closed down and the Government swimming scheme has proved so popular, it is obvious that more that nine extra swimmers will be expecting to be able to use the new main pool.

With the technology available to us now it should be possible for the new pool to have a life expectancy of 50-60 years, which would justify a greater initial investment for a facility to accommodate all for decades to come.

The current plans would represent £1 million a year to pay for this plan, or an average of nearly £3 million per extra swimmer, before considering the running costs. It is outrageous to consider spending nearly £26 million, though that figure will surely rise during construction, on an inadequate facility with a ridiculously short life expectancy.

Finally, and this is not relating to Mr Simpson's letter, in 1905, 105 years ago, a pool was built in St Albans. This is still used by the sub aqua club. Well done that team!

In 1971, 39 years ago, the current Westminster Lodge Pool was built. The planners did their research excellently since it's only in the last year or two that overloading has occurred. Well done that team!

The proposed new pool is already too small with too short a lifespan planned. I don't think that anyone will be saying well done to the team responsible for this should it go ahead.

Yes, a new pool is needed but surely it's better to get the plans right before starting to build even if the building is a little delayed and the cost higher.

There have been changes to the expected numbers of people using the pool that no one could have predicted when the planning process began, but it's not too late to reconsider and get it right. Only then will we be able to say, "well done that team!"

SHEILA MCGUINNESS

Oak Hall Road, Wanstead

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