Swimming pool protest reaches boiling point

PUBLISHED: 11:32 01 April 2010 | UPDATED: 15:02 06 May 2010

SIR – I refer to the letter from Peter Simpson, the architect with pecuniary interest in the proposed Westminster Lodge leisure centre. I feel that it might have been professionally wise, as his company is party to current planning applications, to ke

SIR - I refer to the letter from Peter Simpson, the architect with pecuniary interest in the proposed Westminster Lodge leisure centre.

I feel that it might have been professionally wise, as his company is party to current planning applications, to keep quiet at this time. However it seems there is no limit to the lengths that those who promote this scheme will go to foist it upon residents.

Personally I am sick to the back teeth of being told what suits national and regional strategies, whether they are government agencies or others. I want, as do others it seems, a swimming pool that meets the needs of local residents, here in St Albans, not according to the government of the day, Sports England, national or regional ASA or any other organisation who feels they understand our needs better than we do.

Sustainability is a word too liberally used these days in my opinion. However, how can our proposed miserly swimming pool without diving boards be sustainable, just because it keeps the heating costs down, or whatever this weeks 'spin' story is; when residents, who want to dive or get a swim when turned away from our new complex as its too full, will presumably have to travel by car to Luton, Watford, Hemel Hempstead or Hatfield?

I very much doubt the relevant councils took the needs of St Albans residents into account when planning their sports facilities, so why should we have to behave as the 'St Albans borrowers' because our councillors will not provide the facilities we need?

I know I am not alone in believing the summer consultation of last year was a farce, as the size of pool was not an option put to residents.

Soon a third of district councillors are up for election. Council-lors or wannabe councillors, as you pay your annual pilgrimage to our doorsteps, start listening to what residents, your electors, actually want you to spend our council tax on.

JAMES GREGORY

Tennyson Road, St Albans

SIR - Cllr Burton (Herts Advertiser, March 18) tells us she is responding to the comments about the new Westminster Lodge. But she is most certainly not.

Through your columns I have asked repeatedly for her to tell us how she failed to require the designers to provide a whole range of facilities that are woefully absent from their proposals .

Where is the bowling alley? Where is the ice rink? Where is the skating rink? Where is the roller skating rink? Where is the skate boarding rink? Where is the squash court? Where is the badminton court? Where is the diving pool? Where are the flumes? Where is the cycle circuit?

One thing we do know the location of is the clouds where Cllr Burton seems to be locked in. And she has consistently failed to answer my question "was the scheme put out to open free market competition?"

But now she has recruited the master planner - the architect Peter Simpson, director of S&P Architects, who takes a lot of space to tell us how brilliant his firm is.

What a pity he did not provide plans which should have been his raison d'etre, a leisure complex, but what do we have a twopenny halfpenny main pool, a learner pool and a pool for marginally more advanced performers PLUS of course a climbing wall - no doubt soon to be banned under European Health and Safety regulations - and dozens of exercise machines costing a small fortune and which on the evidence of usage of the present machines are unlikely to have an economical usage rate in the foreseeable future.

But I am somewhat comforted in the knowledge that the architect is able to provide a pool with a depth of from 0 to 2 metres.

Now I know that Cllr Burton probably believes that she can walk on water but can she also swim in water of a depth of 0 metres? And yet architect Peter Simpson goes on to tell us that the ASA have said we will be able to use a 50-metre pool at Luton for "serious" swimming and diving facilities.

I wonder if Mr Simpson has ever stood in a queue waiting for a 321 bus to Luton? And in his 24 years residency in St Albans has he ever used the pool at West-minster Lodge?

Why should we be dictated to by remote bodies from London or Bedfordshire? Surely the needs and wishes of St Albans people should be the primary consideration. Mr Simpson tells us that his design was developed after public consulation "meetings".

Perhaps he can tell us when and where these meetings were held? As a fairly assiduous observer of local goings on I must have missed the "meetings" and the only consultation which took place was a half-bitten questionnaire circulated (as Cllr Mills wrote some months ago) during the peak holiday period and may probably not have been seen many interested parties.

It is perhaps unfortunate that Mr Simpson should refer to his connection with the London Aquatic Centre at the Olympic Park for on the very day you published his letter, the Daily Telegraph carried a report that it now appeared that the roof at the Olympic pool was too low.

It is not too late to prevent this pig in a poke going ahead so I suggest a moratorium where the whole scheme can be reconsidered by ALL interested parties. Let us call a truly public meeting, widely publicised, where serious suggestions can be freely and frankly discussed which might even end up with a truly effective broad-ranging leisure centre which meets the needs of the widest possible cross section of our community?

Something that goes some way to meeting LDF Core Evidence Base document Sport and Recreation Facilities Strategy 2005 might be a good starting point.

PHILIP WEBSTER

Townsend Drive, St Albans

SIR - I refer to the letters from Cllr Shelia Barton and Mr Peter Simpson of S&P Architects (Herts Advertiser, March 18).

I am utterly incensed by these letters. First I start with Cllr Barton - madam when did you last use the leisure facilities at Westminster Lodge?

I swim at the pool on a Saturday and Sunday mornings and also three mornings a week before I go to work so I feel that I am well qualified to comment on the new proposals.

Since the closure of Bricket Wood Swimming Pool there has been a significant increase in the users of the pool and unfortunately many of them are totally unaware of their swimming style so when attempting to overtake them safely without drowning them you really need the extra few meters you have at Westminster Lodge currently!

Shortening the lanes will just turn our leisure facilities into a glorified health club with a bit of water for splashing around in unable to accommodate serious swimmers.

Mr Simpson, I refer to the points in your letter with which you seek to legitimise your inferiour design by telling us the ASA (Amateur Swiming Association) agree the Hertfordshire ASA endorse, etc., etc., etc..

Please let me remind you we pay the taxes in this area, not the ASA.

In response to point two in your letter regarding the 50-metre pool and the fact the the ASA's future plans are for a new 50-metre pool in Luton! Luton is 17 miles away!

Sir we do not live in Luton, we don't care about the ASA's National Strategy, we do NOT want an inferior pool here in St Albans because it suits the ASA!

But the really interesting part of your letter is the bit where you refer to the sustainablility and running costs of a 25-metre as opposed to a 50-metre pool.

That is the reality this council once again is going to for the cheap option, the one which they hope makes them look good but at a bargain price! After the joke which was St Peter's Street pedestrianisation and the Hypocaust buildng, are we really surprised?

MICHELLE EDWARDS

Prospect Road, St Albans

SIR - I am grateful to Sheila Burton and Peter Simpson for their letters explaining how the mechanism works to divide the new swimming pool in half by a system of ramps and hydraulic pumps. I had not fully understood this before.

It sounds fantastic, but it also sounds expensive compared to the more old-fashioned method of putting a rope across the pool.

I also see that, in the new plans, the architects have shown six treatment rooms in the space next to the gym. Why? Are they expecting a lot of injuries?

Might I suggest that, unless there is a definite plan for these treatment rooms, they will very quickly become storage cupboards.

Mr Simpson says that in considering the total capacity of the new pool we have to take into account the fact that the capacity of the new learner pool is going to be much bigger.

So, can we just picture the situation on a busy Sunday afternoon in August when the main pool has reached its maximum capacity (this happened several times in the summer of 2009)? The lifeguard in the new pool will be faced with the option of saying to the public: "Right, there are too many people in the main pool. Some of you will have to get out of the pool and you'll have to go into the learner pool."

It really is a ludicrous suggestion. Rather than stubbornly insisting that they know what is best for us, Sheila Burton and Peter Simpson must take account of the 600 comments that they received on the survey forms and the large number of letters sent to the council complaining that the new main pool is too small.

Mr Simpson and his firm should use their undoubted expertise to amend the plans to provide the public with what they are asking for, rather than telling us what we are going to have. There are a number of options.

Mr Simpson says that a larger pool will cost more to run, and, whilst that is true, in actual fact it will be self funding, because if you attract more customers, then this additional income will pay for the extra running costs.

The architects and the council committee for sport are trying to introduce features that nobody has asked for, but they are resisting demands for more swimming space in the main pool and they are trying to push their ideas through without listening.

So could I just say that it's part of the democratic process to listen to other people's points of view, and while this may not be comfortable sometimes, it's far better in the long term to take everyone's suggestions into account so that you achieve the best result.

But, thankfully, this will all be considered by the St Albans planning committee now, and they will have the task of making the best choice about what will happen.

ERNEST BARNES

St Albans

SIR - I have been following the correspondence about changes to the swimming pool with the hope that the needs of us regular, casual swimmers will be taken into account.

We're not interested in ASA's national plans, we want a good swim in St Albans. I do see problems with the present proposal:

A legal concern - Thanks for the letters from Sheila Burton (council portfolio holder) and from Peter Simpson (S&P Architects) providing some background.

I'm not a lawyer but is it legally, (or morally), permissible for them to express a (necessarily biassed) views on the proposed Westminster Lodge pool complex during the consultation process?

They won't for example, suggest improving the present pool, or the using the Bricket Wood pool. Can someone advise me please?

Inadequate maximum capacity - I estimate that maximum capacity could be reached in only four years.

S&P Architects give an increase in maximum capacity of 48 swimmers from the present 165 to 213 for the proposed two pools. If the new pools attract (only) one additional swimmer each month, the pools will reach maximum capacity in 48 months (four years). With respect, this looks to be a very poor investment. Closing Bricket Wood pool has displaced more than 48 swimmers.

Reduced flexibility - We have a pool complex that is large enough for four simultaneous activities (learner pool, school swimming lessons, casual sports training and family swimming). Widths and lengths are divided off by conventional, affordable, floating lane guides.

A 25-metre pool (and a 17-metre learner pool more so) restricts activities to one activity at a time (that is either schools, or casual, or length training). Three activities, a reduction from the four at present.

Experience with 25-metre school pools shows that you cannot mix vigorous lane swimming with (for example) a novice swimming class.

Our present pool can be used by children's inflatables, too. Another loss!

No diving boards - We've lost our diving boards. Luton sports centre hasn't begun yet, Hemel Hempstead pool is by arrangement only. Diving boards are used by all ages ("7 to 70") for health, recreation and to provide a challenge to frustrated teenagers. Unlike lane swimming, diving provides spectator interest. Their retention should be considered again.

NICHOLAS HARAN

Marshalswick Lane, St Albans

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