Leisure centre campaigners lose fight over St Albans pool size

CAMPAIGNERS were left disappointed on Tuesday evening after the district council’s cabinet unanimously voted to press ahead with existing swimming pool plans at the new Westminster Lodge leisure centre.

The special meeting had been called after the council’s overview and scrutiny committee voted to get cabinet to look again at increasing the size of the 25-metre long swimming pool from eight lanes to 10 in the face of a campaign from the PoolTooSmall group supported by the St Albans Civic Society.

David Gilroy of PoolTooSmall and Peter Trevelyan of the Civic Society made a presentation to cabinet members, claiming that the pool was insufficient and would lead to over-crowding. They said that the health spa aspect of the new facility smacked of “sheer commercialism” and concerns were also raised about any future expansion at the Abbey Theatre being inhibited by the new development.

But project manager Julie Simpson stressed that the moveable floors in the pool and learner pools would provide far greater flexibility in classes and an additional 30.5 per cent of water space. She conceded there would still be a deficiency in water capacity after the development – even if the pool was made bigger – but said the council needed to plan for another leisure facility elsewhere in the district. She also pointed out that there was only one other pool the size proposed by PoolTooSmall in the country.

Council leader Robert Donald said: “Unashamedly, this is not the very best we could have because we can’t afford the best, but it’s a compromise that provides for a great range of leisure needs in the district that we haven’t had in the past.” He also stressed that the commercial aspects such as the spa made it economically viable.

Local Labour leader, Cllr Martin Leach, left bitterly disappointed with the format and result of the meeting. He said: “Make no mistake, this was a classic show trial undertaken as a public relations exercise complete with pre-prepared questions, pre-written statements and a predictable vote. The meeting was a vulgar gesture to those who have campaigned tirelessly for a better leisure centre. Just as vulgar as planting its planning application during the recent local election campaign, but not quite as vulgar as stealing money from social housing to pay for it.”

Speaking yesterday, portfolio holder for sport and healthy living, Cllr Anthony Rowlands, said a bigger pool would “fly in the face” of all advice from national experts.

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He continued: “Equally seriously, changing the plans would have landed residents with a bill of well in excess of a million pounds. Lengthy delays runs the risk of missing out on a highly competitive period for the construction industry which could reduce the bill for the council. It would have been irresponsible to have altered direction in the way the campaign wanted. Now we must move ahead with a project which has strong public support and will deliver a vitally needed flag-ship leisure centre for the city and district.”