Newcastle swimming pools closure plans are threat to Olympic legacy

CITY swimming pools are the latest to face the axe of council cuts as the North East’s Olympic legacy lies under threat.

Peter French (head of masters swimming) with members of City of Newcastle ASC
Peter French (head of masters swimming) with members of City of Newcastle ASC

CITY swimming pools are the latest to face the axe of council cuts as the North East’s Olympic legacy lies under threat.

Across Newcastle, pools face being closed down or sold off as council bosses try to find £90m worth of savings.

Councillors say they have no choice, but to bring in outside operators in the face of Government grant cuts and rising costs, but across Newcastle swimming groups have said the move is a cut too far.

Last night Louise Graham, the new head coach of City of Newcastle Amateur Swimming Club, said the cuts jeopardised education and fitness in Tyneside.

And, on a visit to the region, sports minister Hugh Robertson said closing swimming pools would jeopardise the region’s strong sporting legacy.

Mr Robertson backed swimmers preparing to campaign against the budget cuts.

He said: “Councils have a choice, it is pointless for them to close facilities and then blame the Government.

“We all know the economic situation we face, and councils have to maker a choice within that.”

Within three years only one pool will be looked after by the council, Byker’s East End pool.

For almost all others, including the Outer West Pool, Gosforth Pool and Elswick Pool, the council wants outside groups to run them at a reduced cost. Others at risk are Eldon Square’s pool and the Scotswood Sports Centre.

If groups or firms do not come forward over the next two years, the council will then start the process of closing down these pools.

The threat of having to repay Sports England grants at the Walker Activity Dome and the Centre for Sport on the West Road should ensure these stay open.

Jesmond and Fenham pools are already run by outside groups. For Newcastle’s City pool, home to former Olympic swimmers, the situation is far worse.

A backlog of repairs worth more than £3m mean, the council says, there is little chance of finding a new operator and the pool will have to be closed down.

The moves are part of efforts to save £7m over three years from the council’s leisure budget.

Louise Graham said it was ironic that the city’s Olympic legacy could be the closure of the City Pool.

The City Pool from which the club operates, has been home to the team since the 1970s,creating three Olympians and many others who have represented Great Britain internationally.

Ms Graham said: “The news of the threatened closure has come as a massive shock to the club and our swimmers. It is ironic that in 2012 Newcastle’s Olympic legacy threatens to be the closure of the City Pool, the home to the city’s Swimming Club and some of the region’s best swimming talent.”

But Tony McKenna, head of leisure services, said the city has an over-provision of swimming pools. He added: “In the case of the City Pool, the building requires such a lot of investment that it is difficult to envisage any organisation wanting to run it as a pool, and the council isn’t in a position to fund the capital work needed. Consequently, we think the only viable option is to close the pool. This isn’t something that we want to do, but we need to do it to strike a balanced budget and continue to support swimming across the city.

“The University of Northumbria pool is open to the public and is on the same street, some 250m away from the City Pool.

“It’s a two-year-old, state-of-the-art facility which will welcome displaced swimmers form the City Pool with open arms. The two pools run by community organisations in Fenham and Jesmond will also continue to provide opportunities for swimming in the city.

“We will work with the City of Newcastle Amateur Swimming Club, Newburn Swimming Club and the Amateur Swimming Association to see how we can continue to support performance swimming as part of our consultation on this proposal.”

We all know the economic situation we face, and councils have to maker a choice within that

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