Parkside Pool

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One of the amazing long-running sagas of Cambridge political life.

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.)


(Based on a list in the Cambridge Evening News 2-Feb-1996)

So what's it all about?

On the one hand the Labour group felt that a total redevelopment was required, the current pool being beyond redemption. This led to schemes involving private developers, with their plans for one or more hotels, a nightclub plus a new swimming pool. All of this to be paid for by the developers, they said. Where all these notional customers would park and their effect on the local roads presumably was a factor in a Department of Environment inspector ruling against such a massive overdevelopment of the (now) tiny Donkey's Common site.

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.

New Pool - 1996

City Council officials and Labour councillors pursued a combination of National Lottery money and housing development at the rear of the Pool, in Mortimer Road. The refurbishment might include a Waterworld water leisure centre.

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.

New Pool - 1997

Following adverse comments from the Royal Fine Art Commission (e.g. likened to a DIY shed on a retail park), conservation and heritage experts, the new pool's plans were redesigned - it's in a conservation area - and approved by the Planning Subcommittee in January 1997. In March demolition consent was received from the Secretary of State for the Environment.

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 Lottery bid for 10M (90% of the estimated total of 12.27M) was submitted at the end of November 1996 and the result of the bid to the Sports Council was due in February 1997. However administrative changes in the handling of applications delayed it till May, when the bid was rejected. The main reason given was that the pool development wasn't going to help enough "recreation-deprived" people in planning terms (only the adjacent Market Ward qualified). However a partial award of 65% (8M) was announced on 4-Jun-1997.

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)

Before Parkside Pool

The first plan for a public swimming pool for Cambridge was in 1857, by the New Music Hall and Public Rooms Company, Cambridge, Ltd., to be a large building with entrances in Jesus Lane and Park Street. Although the plan was welcomed by many, objectors won.

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.