For five years the Labour-dominated Oxford City Council has persisted in its unpopular scheme to build a new swimming-pool at Blackbird Leys, a council estate in the south of the town. There was never been any spontaneous demand for this scheme and the council has ignored a series of petitions signed by 12,000 people protesting and demanding refurbishment instead of the existing pool at Temple Cowley sports centre in East Oxford, which is intensively used and far more accessible.
The campaigners argue that the scheme effectively spends £13 million to end up with facilities that are no better and will be used by FEWER people.
The new pool is exactly the same size as the existing one at Temple Cowley, 25 metres long. The contracted building cost is £7.2m, but there is an agreed 'contingency' of £2m to cover all the facilities and some consulting costs. An additional £2m was spent on Blackbird Leys before the main contract was let, to enable the buildings to join up with an existing one, but they miscalculated and put in a fully fitted dance studio... then demolished it to make way for a corridor.
When you include the £2m+ for consultancy fees, the total is over £13 million.
The campaigners say that Temple Cowley Pool could and should be renovated instead. A number of specialist leisure centre/pool renovation companies gave estimates, all in the order of £3m for a full refurbishment. This would last at least 25 more years - the same as the anticipated life of the new pool. In fact TCP could be kept operational for much less. The whole centre (including gym, steam room, sauna, exercise studio) is costing under £100,000 a year for maintenance. The Council's own independent surveys identify under £500,000 of minimum remedial/replacement work that would keep it operational for 20+ years.
TCP is well used and the regulars will find Blackbird Leys hard to get to. It will cost time and money and many won't bother. Before the Council started running TCP down (about 3 years ago), there were 250,000 visits a year. The council estimates that the new pool will attract 180,000 visits a year. So we are paying over £13 million to end up with less!
The first petition to save TCP, in 2010, got over 12,000 signatures, the highest in the history of Oxford. The petition was rejected by Oxford City Council. Since then the campaigners have presented six more petitions each gaining a minimum of 1,500 signatures, because this is the number that forces a debate in Full Council. Number 7 will be presented at the next Council meeting on February 3rd.
There is concerted local opposition to the scheme among residents of Blackbird Leys. The scheme means the loss of an existing small pool there and of a lot of green space on Blackbird Leys Park. There will be no diving pool, and traffic into the estate will increase significantly. So the vast majority of people don't want it!
But the Council is carrying on regardless. Sign the new petition. Contact your city councillor and protest. Tell them that your vote in May depends on this issue.