Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The future of Haslingden Pool

Last weekend I met with Rossendale Council leader Alyson Barnes for the nth time to discuss Haslingden baths, which currently has the sword of Damocles hanging over it.

There have been cries that the abandonment of the proposed new baths is tantamount to an act of betrayal. With a draconian £3m of council cuts made by central government, Rossendale Council been left with far less funding for capital projects; funding that would have seen the new build Haslingden swimming pool go ahead.

The £3m cut has also made councils more risk averse full stop. Taking on staff and a new project that may or may not succeed in a world where the Chancellor of the Exchequer's failing economic policies have resulted in a further 2 years  previously unannounced cuts (2015-2017) is not an reassuring prospect. Many suspect that northern councils like Rossendale will be punished even harder for this continuing economic failure and that further cuts will be added beyond 2017.

No responsible northern council leader representing an urban area such as Rossdendale which is facing unfair Tory cuts can do anything other than plan a fasttrack contraction of their council and it services.

The Labour administration inherited a position in May 2011 that the new baths had stalled under the previous Tory Council. Various problems arose, business models had to be redesigned downwards and original expectations dampened, including axing of the multitude of complementary services planned at the new pool. The original budget was 3 years out of date and there were significant issues with ground stability that threatened to make the scheme unviable.

With that it was decided to put a new pool on hold, pending a significant improvement in government funding or other revenue stream increases.

There has to be some realism, and I was pleased to receive a letter from a resident this week that stated;
"I do not blame the council for what is happening - they have been forced into this by Government policy - but they need help in both highlighting the issue and in finding solutions. It seems likely that the pool will be taken on by a social enterprise - getting assistance in establishing this and in helping them access European funding could be critical and something MPs could put their weight behind."
Facing both a financial cliff and and a failing plan I requested an appraisal of the current baths which the Labour group had instigated which in my view are more suitably located in the centre of Haslingden. I was never happy with the proposed site. The structural survey has revealed significant and costly problems which may limit the life of the building to a few years.

The resident letter highlights the popularity of both the pool and its current site;
"The pool is an incredibly well used facility bringing old and young together with clear health benefits as well as providing a focal point for the community. I'm sure that a well led campaign on the impact of such closures would have strong support and add momentum to your work to prevent not just treat ill health."

The current pool is in a poor state with structural/concrete issues. However that's not to say that without TLC it cannot continue. A consultation is being undertaken to gauge interest in various options including a community run venture similar to Shadsworth leisure centre. I also believe there is a similar venture at Whitworth.

David Cameron has called for the Big Society to step in and provide public services, to engage in social good. It is clear that this is one plausible option for as the cuts bite deeper, there is a grave risk the old pool will close in the near future.

I would certainly be a sponsor/backer of a community ownership scheme and would do all I could to be involved and promote it.