AN EIGHT-lane swimming pool which can stage national competitions will be built in Worcester despite fears it could become a ‘white elephant’ in the city.
A £10.45million plan to extend Perdiswell Leisure Centre to accommodate a new 25m pool and seating for 250 spectators was approved by Worcester City Council last Tuesday (September 30).
The project, which is expected to be completed in 2016, would also include the creation of a 18m x 10m learner pool with a movable floor to allow it to be transformed into a fun pool for youngsters.
The decision puts an end to the long-running swimming pool saga, which has seen a £13.5million scheme and a scaled-back £7.7million plan fail to get off the ground.
But it still sparked a long debate at the Guildhall, with Labour councillors claiming the cash-strapped council could not afford it before the project was voted through by 18 votes to 16.
Speaking at the meeting, Coun Simon Geraghty, leader of the city council, said anything less than eight-lanes ‘would let residents down’.
“The council needs to settle this matter once and for all to allow this to go ahead and remove the risk of Worcester not having a pool,” he said.
“We must plan not just for today, but for the future and given that the facility has a 40-year life span we need to broaden our horizons.
“This is a great sporting city, with great new facilities which have been added in recently years. But we should strengthen our offering in Worcester and this is a key component in doing that.”
Funding for the scheme will come mainly from a combination of borrowing and a 40-year subsidy, which was strongly opposed by Coun Roger Berry.
“Yes, it would be great to produce this wonderful white elephant, but what we are we going to do with the ever increasing black hole in the city’s finances?,” he said.
“What are we going to have to scrap to afford this? Do we close a sports centre or a museum because that is the current vice-like drip the Government has on finances.”
Coun Berry along with other Labour councillors were instead in favour of a six-lane pool, which would cost £9million to create, as Coun Jo Hodges added: “The benefits of having an eight-lane pool and putting Worcester on the swimming map may be desirable.”
“But it would commit Worcester council tax payers to an increased council tax bill – above that for a six-lane pool.”
Coun Marc Bayliss said: “Why can’t a city which is growing have the ambition to have something better than our it produced 40-odd years ago?
“We are saying ‘we cannot have an eight-lane pool, but Wolverhampton and Rugby can have one’,”
Responding to claims from Coun Simon Cronin the council was ‘skint’, Coun Chris Mitchell, cabinet member for Delivering Value for Money, added: “We can afford this and if it goes wrong I will be held responsible and I am happy to accept that.”