Pool closure highlights need for new facility

The possibility of a new swimming pool for a town has been touted after councillors said the pandemic had highlighted the shortcomings of the existing centre.

The continued closure of Whitchurch Swimming Pool was discussed by Shropshire Councillors
The continued closure of Whitchurch Swimming Pool was discussed by Shropshire Councillors

Whitchurch’s pool has remained closed since the first lockdown last March, with Shropshire Council saying the small building could not safely accommodate social distancing while others across the county were able to reopen between lockdowns.

A petition from Whitchurch resident Nick Saxby, signed by 441 people, was debated at a scrutiny committee meeting on Wednesday and prompted questions over whether the old swimming centre was still fit for purpose.

Councillor Joyce Barrow, a former swimming teacher, said it would be “totally wrong” to open the pool while the pandemic was ongoing.

But she added: “I am surprised that we have never actually looked at Whitchurch pool.

“It’s a very, very old pool and I would be interested in the future at some point to see the condition of the building and the actual pool itself.

“A report would be welcome, obviously not now while the council is very busy, but there might come a point where we have to look at perhaps building a new swimming pool.

“I know that’s not for now, but I think it’s something for the future.”

The petition asked the council to “make Whitchurch Swimming Centre usable, work with contractors and partners to develop solutions for adapting the centre for social distancing, and engage with the community on the obstacles to opening the pool”.

In a statement read to the committee, Mr Saxby said: “Unfortunately, so far, we haven’t heard anything about the technical reasons why the facility is not able to accommodate social distancing.

“I have asked which options have been explored for adapting the site, and explanations as to why these are not actionable, but I haven’t received any technical detail.”

In response to the petition, a statement from portfolio holder for leisure, Cllr Lezley Picton, said: “We completely understand the frustrations of the community that we were unable to reopen the swimming pool prior to the latest lockdown.”

Cllr Picton said the layout of the building meant it was not possible to implement a one-way system or social distancing in the reception area, corridors and spectator area, while the changing rooms would only be able to safely accommodate four people.

The matter has been further complicated by a mystery leak in the pool, and a specialist contractor has been brought in to identify the cause and carry out repairs.

Cllr Picton said the council had set aside a “considerable amount” of money for this work, demonstrating its commitment to reopening the facility as soon as social distancing measures are relaxed.

Cllr Peggy Mullock, one of the Whitchurch’s three unitary councillors, said she agreed it was not feasible to reopen the pool under current guidance. She said: “I would not want to do anything to put lives in my town at risk.”

She added: “As I have great grandchildren, three of them, waiting to start swimming lessons, residents can be well assured that I will be following this issue very closely and getting our baths open as soon as we can.”

Cllr Roger Evans asked whether measures such as moving the reception area into a marquee attached to the building had been explored.

The council’s director of place, Mark Barrow, said a range of options had been looked at but the conclusion was that there was no way of making the centre Covid-safe.

Mr Barrow added: “As a resident of Whitchurch and a user of the pool, I am really keen to get it back open.

“I don’t say that flippantly, I genuinely mean that. I am pushing people to come up with solutions and we will continue to look at whether there’s anything that can be done safely.”

Mr Saxby said he was disappointed that there was still a “not a lot of detail” over what actions the council had taken since last March to try and overcome the hurdles thrown up by the building’s layout.

He added: “Ultimately, the pool is going to have to stay closed for now, but I don’t think that absolves Shropshire Council of their responsibility to be engaged with the people of Whitchurch”.

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