New twist in St Albans’ Westminster Lodge saga

THE saga of the new Westminster Lodge leisure centre in St Albans has taken another twist – it has now been called in to a scrutiny committee for the second time.

The call-in to next Tuesday’s meeting follows last month’s decision by the new Tory-led administration on the district council to back campaigners and expand the size of the main 25-metre swimming pool from eight lanes to 10.

That decision has infuriated the opposition Lib Dem group which had opted for eight lanes while it was in control of the council and has always felt a 10-lane pool would not be financially viable, particularly as there will be two other pools in the new leisure centre.

Cllr Robert Donald, Lib Dem group leader and chairman of overview and scrutiny which is calling in the cabinet decision of June 7 to extend the pool, said that in his view the need to alter the size of the pool had never been conclusively proven or substantiated.

It had been rushed, he went on, and closer scrutiny of the change in a multi-million pound contract was not only desirable but essential.

He explained that he had called it in because in his view cabinet had changed the contract to increase the pool to 10 lanes without sufficient consideration being given to the revenue impact of the changes on the future maintenance costs of the leisure centre and loss of income from the facilities which would not now be provided.

Warning that the decision could potentially risk taxpayers’ money, he has also voiced concerns about the loss of energy-saving parts of the scheme, such as the use of solar panels on the roof, which had been removed to enable the two additional swimming lanes to be added.

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Cllr Donald added: “This is a valuable development contract and the committee members will need to satisfy themselves that the revised scheme will deliver value for money to the district’s residents. Otherwise, in my view, residents could be paying more for decades to come for a flagship leisure centre that was designed not to cost them any more than now and to provide an income for the council through the widest possible range of sports and recreational facilities.”

The original decision to build an eight-lane swimming pool was called in by the Conservatives on the scrutiny committee in January when they were in opposition.

The committee questioned the business case underlying the leisure centre project but were assured by an external expert that it was conservative and realistic.