The fuss was what to do about Parkside Pool, the main swimming pool in Cambridge. (The others are Jesus Green Open-Air Pool and Abbey Pool - they have their own stories to boggle the reader.)
On the other side were the Liberal Democrats plus lots of locals, who pointed out that all the pool needed was a good overhaul, admittedly at the Council's expense.
The 1994 consultants reckoned the cost for a refurbished would be between £2.5M and £4.2M with a lifetime of 10-15 years and that the operating subsidy would be 50% higher than for a rebuilt pool.
The Planning Sub-committee formally scrapped the grandiose 1993 plan in January 1996 as it went against the Local Plan.
In February 1996 the City Board decided to proceed with the new plan, rejecting the idea of a simple refurbishment entirely at the City's expense. At least half of the (then) estimated £7.22M was to be sought from the National Lottery. The rest was come from the Council, partnerships with other councils or from developers.
Liberal Democrat Leader Coun. David Howarth said there was a growing consensus on the issue between the political parties(!). He pointed out that if the Lottery bid failed, simple refurbishment might be the only option left and that should be re-evaluated just in case.
Conservative Leader Coun. Graham Edwards however reckoned refurbishment was the worst possible option: spending another £25,000 on another survey of the pool everyone knows is in desperate need of repair was a waste of money.
Martin Ballard pointed out (CEN 14-Feb-1996) that a Lottery bid would need a coherent statement from the politicians describing how a new pool would enhance the region's sports facilities.
Redevelopment had been justified so far on these grounds:
The City Council spent £100,000 on buying the plans for the failed 1993 development from developers Stock Harvard, securing copyright for the useless plans and the services of the design team which produced them (it was said). Yet the Council planned to appoint a new team of developers for a fresh planning application.
In May leisure officials reported to Councillors that the plan for a leisure pool and housing would actually cost £8.5M and that the present pool would have to close whilst work is in progress. The running costs would be £1.1M, compared with £525,000 then. The City would pay £850,000 of the capital cost, the rest coming from Lottery money. A full Council meeting in July decided to spend £394,000 on detailed plans for the site, including housing. By August the cost was estimated as £7.2M. £736,000 was then earmarked for professional fees in 1996/97. The estimated initial running cost was by now £540,000.
The LibDems still had reservations: the current pool would have to close before work commenced and there was no backup plan should the Lottery bid fail. They also opposed making a large cash committment towards drawing up the Lottery bid but Labour outvoted them on the Leisure Services Committee 5-4.
The design team wasn't chosen by the usual tender process but was the 1993 team "bought" the previous year.
The plans now included:
The Labour group proceeded anyway on the basis of a cost of £11.5M, committing £4M capital from the City Council, to be raised by selling Council property (13 properties, possibly £3M-worth), from Council Tax and from reserves. Sums of £0.5 to £1.5M have been mentioned as the annual cost, incuding servicing a £4M debt. Again the LibDems asked for the scheme to be scrapped and the money spent on housing instead.
Objectors to the pool and in particular the many regular users pointed out that:
The daily/weekly pool regulars would have continued to use the pool whatever happened - nothing, refurbishment or redevelopment. Even if the new pool will be less suitable (as some claim), the regulars will still be there. So the success of the pool rests on whether it can attract new users by having affordable, accessible, popular features.
The old pool closed on 20-Jul-1997. Contractors Wilmott Dixon moved onto the site in August, aiming to build ready for use in March 1999.
Then in August the LibDem's Leisure Services Spokesman, Cllr. Ian Nimmo-Smith, raised formally with the council's external auditors whether there was adequate control of the cost of the redevelopment scheme. He believed that "there have been substantial defects in safeguarding the interests of Cambridge's Council Tax payers." He asserted that various Council Standing Orders were waived to smooth the choice of design team and of contractors. The auditors duly reported back, saying they found nothing wrong.
In March 1999 the Council dropped the idea of new housing on the leftover land between Mortimer Road and the new pool as that had only been proposed to cover an expected shortfall in capital - this never arose as the Lottery grant proved sufficient.
The "Parkside Pools" partially opened on 10-Apr-1999 and fully on 1-May.
(CEN 25-Jan-1996, 2-Feb, 6-Feb, 2-Apr, 25-May, 7-Jun, 10-Jun, 15-Aug, 13-Dec, 9-Jan-1997, 11-Feb, 6-May, 7-May, 4-Jun,
4-Jul, 8-Jul, 17-Jul)
(cam.misc postings by Sarah Woodall, Colin Rosenstiel, Ian Nimmo-Smith)
The Roman Bath Co. operated briefly in 1863.
A covered pool was proposed in 1931 but no action was taken. A palatial swimming stadium was planned in 1935 behind Parkside but nothing came of it. It included a 60-foot long tearoom and 16 "Zotofoam" baths.