Counting cost of St Albans’ Wesminster Lodge pool-size decision

PLACATING the minority is how a decision to add two extra lanes to the pool at the new Westminster Lodge leisure centre in St Albans has been described by a former council portfolio holder.

Cllr Anthony Rowlands, who was portfolio holder for sport and leisure under the previous Lib Dem administration, has hit out at last week’s announcement that the size of the pool in the complex is to be increased at the expense of a poolside health suite, changes to construction materials and finishes and delays in installing PV (solar) panels.

But the group which lobbied for the increased swimming space is calling the Tory administration’s decision a fantastic result for the district.

Cllr Rowlands accused the Conservatives of, “diving head-first into a decision which will damage the overall project.”

He went on: “They have sought to placate a minority who demanded a bigger pool and came up with a hybrid compromise which exists hardly anywhere else in the country.

“And of course it’s at a cost. Out goes the health suite which would have generated income to subsidise the swimming. Out goes the use of high quality materials in favour of cheaper alternatives.

“Out go the environmentally vital PV panels at a time when energy conservation should be a top priority.”

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Cllr Rowlands described the decision as, “short-termism at its worse” and said that after just a month in charge, it cast doubt on the competence of the ruling group to manage the Westminster Lodge project in the best interests of the people of St Albans.

PoolTooSmall, the group set up to lobby for greater swimming space in the new Westminster Lodge, described the decision as the biggest moment in its history.

A spokesperson said the two extra lanes were vital to “futureproof” the pool for at least the next 30 years if not longer.

He went on: “Instead of an inadequate eight-lane pool with queues out of the door the moment it opens, we now have the extra swimming space for our children, grandchildren and theirs yet to be born.”

St Albans district council leader, Cllr Julian Daly, said last week that as chairman of overview and scrutiny under the previous administration, he had accepted the argument that the district could be short of water capacity and that the problem could be eased by the addition of a couple of extra lanes.