Hopes of a New Pool for Haslingden Take a Dive
|Author: Christine Smith||Published: 29th September 2011 00:52|
After an evening filled with debate, political argument and suggestions of immorality, a decision was finally made to reverse the plans for a new pool in Haslingden and invest in the purchase and demolition of Rawtenstall's Valley Centre instead.
The Valley Centre, Rawtenstall, plans are for its
demolition in 2012
The timing of last night's (Thursday's) discussion of whether money should be spent on a new pool in Haslingden or for the purchase of the Valley Centre in Rawtenstall at the full council meeting was criticised due to the 8.30pm start, which prevented many people with children attending. Despite this, whilst the crowd wasn't as large as the one that greeted Councillors at the August Cabinet meeting, it was still a sizable turnout, with some new faces present.
The meeting was held the day after Councillors received a condition survey regarding the state of Haslingden Swimming Pool. Whilst the contents of the report are not allowed to be made public, mention was made that it does state that: "a significant failure can be expected within the next five years" and that "concrete structures of this nature do not usually fail catastrophically."
Eric Davies, President of Haslingden Swimming Club, asked for a guarantee that the existing Haslingden Pool would be kept open, regardless of the repairs needed (the cost of which was quoted as being around £1.4m). No such guarantee was given, which provided little reassurance to those fighting for the facility, which is used by 11 schools and provides lessons for 150 children on a weekly basis, not to mention the other groups that use the pool, with the total number of annual visits being placed at 80,000. Indeed in a recent consultation carried out by Rossendale Council, 627 respondents quoted that the pool was a key priority, compared to 31 who voted for the Valley Centre. There was also the matter of a 8,122 signature petition that was presented to the Council on 12th September which, whilst initially presented to the chamber at the beginning of the meeting, was rarely referred to afterwards. Conservative Councillors also came under fire for not pressing ahead with the plans for the new pool when they were first approved.
In the end, it was a majority of just two votes that saw the decision made to regenerate the Valley Centre instead of build a new pool in Haslingden. Notable Councillors voting for the Valley Centre regeneration included Haslingden Councillors Ann Kenyon and Bob Wilkinson, who represent Worsley Ward. One Haslingden resident, who asked not to be named, stated that she was "Appalled that these Councillors are supposed to represent the views of the people in their area. How can they, when the petition and consultation show that Haslingden folk so passionately want a new pool?"
So, what are the plans for Rawtenstall's Valley Centre? The cost to acquire the centre, demolish it (in 2012) and develop it into a ‘usable site' has been quoted at around £2.5m, so significantly less than the £3.2m needed to build a new swimming pool, a facility which, it was estimated, would lose £32,000 per year. Having said that, the cost to the public of not progressing with the building of the pool has been quoted as £300,000, thus reducing this differential in real terms. When the phrase ‘usable site' is used in relation to the Valley Centre, it isn't proposed that Rossendale Council invest in regenerating the Valley Centre into a commercial centre, but rather a place where people can meet and markets can be held, for example.
Speaking following last night's meeting, Council Leader Alyson Barnes said: "This has been one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make but I believe that it is absolutely the right thing to do for the whole community. The people who wanted a new pool were very passionate in their cause but there is already a pool in Haslingden which will continue to be open for the foreseeable future. In the current financial climate where Rossendale has had a 28% funding cut, the new pool is a luxury that we cannot afford right now.
"Nationally, the economy is teetering on the brink; we need to make jobs and regeneration our top priority in Rossendale. The Valley Centre has been an eyesore for far too long. It is driving shoppers away from Rossendale and strangling the fantastic independent shops on Bank Street and surrounding area. We owe it to our community to sort out this mess once and for all - we cannot afford to wait a moment longer.
"No one disputes that health is an important issue in Rossendale and good quality sports and leisure facilities do encourage people to get fitter. This is why we are already going ahead with £2.6m of investment in sports and leisure facilities at Marl Pits. This is the biggest investment the Council has made in its history."
Andy MacNae, Portfolio Holder for Regeneration said: "This vote means that we can now sort out a problem that has blighted Rawtenstall for years and has badly affected the way in which the whole Valley is viewed. I am sure that everyone who values Rossendale will breath a sigh of relief when the Valley centre is finally demolished."
Speaking following the decision, David Gould, President of the Rawtenstall Chamber of Commerce said: "This is a bold decision from Rossendale Borough Council; many residents have blamed the Council for years about the state of the Valley Centre, but that was before the Council was in a position to have full responsibility for the site, as they did not own it.
"This decision changes that position and, whilst the Chamber approves in principal with the move, the Council must now shoulder the responsibility that comes with ownership, and they now owe it to the residents of Rossendale, not least the campaigners for the Haslingden Swimming Pool, to prove that the decision made tonight was the correct one, by making Rawtenstall worthy of the title ‘Gateway to Rossendale'."
Rossendale Leisure Trust's General Manager Martin Kay added: ""I am a little disappointed, and really because of the hard work that has been put in over the past 5 years. However, we have to accept that we're in a different place than we were and that difficult decisions have to be made, and that is what we saw being played out last night.
"Going forward we will look at Rossendale Leisure Trust to ensure that we can sustain the work going forward and make the most of opportunities for staff to gain skills. I appreciate that a lot of people are disappointed about the pool decision, but there are lots of opportunities in other areas, and we need to make more of those. Whilst the Marl Pits project will sustain health and wellbeing in that area we won't forget about Haslingden Sports Centre and will look at new income streams there."
In terms of what happens next, today will see the start of a formal process to complete the purchase as soon as possible, with the aim of demolishing the Valley Centre within the next six months. In Haslingden, urgent pool repairs and refurbishments will be carried out, and discussions will take place with Rossendale Leisure Trust to look at options for the sports centre site.