St Albans swimming pool size controversy refuses to go away

A 50-metre pool in the new Westminster Lodge leisure centre would have had the blessing of the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) according to campaigners against the current scheme.

St Albans council is planning to start work shortly on the new leisure centre which will have a 25-metre, eight-lane pool as well as a number of other facilities.

But campaigners against the scheme maintain the pool should have been 50 metres and that if it is built as proposed, it will not be able to accommodate all the people in the district wanting to swim into the future.

They say that recent correspondence with the ASA chief executive David Sparkes has revealed that contrary to what the council has been claiming, the advisory body would have been more than happy with a 50-metre pool being built at Westminster Lodge.

Mr Sparkes said the ASA would have preferred the council to look at a 50-metre pool which it felt would have offered better value for money and better provision for the community throughout the day.

He said after a meeting between himself and the council, consultants for the council had done some further work and felt that to opt for a 50-metre pool would increase the costs of the project which, he said, “surprised us.”

Mr Sparkes’ comments have reignited the issues surrounding the size of the pool with the council’s cabinet being accused of riding roughshod over residents’ views and twisting advice to get their own way.

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Conservative group leader, Cllr Julian Daly, said it was clear that the council was misled on the ASA’s advice, a crucial factor in a swimming facility project.

He added: “This does make one lose confidence in the project’s planning seeing that this is the largest venture ever undertaken.”

And local campaigner Vanessa Gregory maintained that the myth that 50-metre pools were “white elephants” and didn’t generate income had been truly laid to rest. She said: “What is true is that some pools of this size have failed whilst others thrive. The key appears to be good design and management.”

Council leader, Cllr Robert Donald, said the cabinet knew that the ASA would have preferred a 50-metre pool but they had advised the council that if they couldn’t have one for financial reasons, the need would be met by a new pool of that size in Luton and possibly one at the University of Herts.

He went on: “They said if we couldn’t afford it, an eight-lane pool would be acceptable for galas and competitions. The ASA is only an advisory body as are Sport England which also commented. We set out to provide a community leisure centre to meet the needs of more residents than Westminster Lodge does at the moment. We wanted a genuine leisure centre which includes a sports hall, climbing wall, youth activities and a spa.”

He maintained that a 50-metre pool would have cost over another �1 million in building costs and the revenue costs would also have increased greatly because swimming pools did not make money.