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Who's in the Swim?

Who's in the SwimThis (long) article one of the most difficult that counterbalance has done.

We're very keen to see St Annes Swimming Pool open again.

And we're equally keen to let our readers know the inside track of what's going on; who's making the decisions with our Council Tax, and why the decisions are made as they are.

The difficulty with this article is that by doing the second, we might put the first at risk. We've thought about it for quite some time, but concluded that our readers, and transparency, should come first.

In 'The Pool: In Depth' back in February, we gave the full history of how we got into the mess that saw a modern swimming pool closed on St Annes Promenade.

We gave links to fifteen previous articles - each marking a milestone in the saga.

We showed how John Coombes had (foolishly) expected to be able to make a profit out of the pool - then when he realised he couldn't - he tried to privatise it: only to find his costs were already cheaper than any of the private sector bids to run it. That said, the YMCA was marginally cheaper at that time, but only because as a charity, they were exempt from paying business rates.

Then we showed how he tried to lever down the YMs price until eventually, they snapped and walked away from the offer to run the pool.

At that time, they had wanted a subsidy of about £11,000 a month to operate the pool.

Then a private sector bidder with business interests in Chorley, made an offer to run the pool at little or no ongoing cost to FBC.

We think the Council could have taken him up on his offer at that time. But they didn't.

To us, that suggests there was something about his proposal they didn't like, but for whatever reason, they couldn't use their dislike of it to justify a refusal. It's more likely to have been to do with his approach or his track record than the actual proposal.

His proposal at that time was broadly as it is now.

It centred on adding a (profitable) fitness suite to the pool building (so as to cross subsidise losses from swimming), and adding in some outdoor recreation services that appeared to add a lot of value to a membership contract with very little actual cost to him. The idea was to offer a diverse and attractive and low cost membership that gave access to swimming, fitness suite, bowls, tennis, putting etc.

But we think his offer put Fylde into a cleft stick.

If (as we believe) they didn't want to go into partnership with this bidder, and they didn't have the YMCA on side; how could they justifiably say 'no' to the offer they'd had?

We suspect this situation was also aggravated by a brewing disagreement about the future of the pool.

We believe that rank-and-file Conservatives were starting to get itchy about the election that's only a year or so away. We heard stories of disastrous polling results for them.

We think the Commissar wanted the pool to stay closed (we believe that, ideally, he would have liked it to be demolished in a comprehensive re-development of the Promenade). However, as we've shown elsewhere, he didn't get his way if that was what he intended.

What he did get, was pressured to re-open the pool, almost at whatever cost. They knew they could not possibly win next year's election if it remained closed.

So 'the Cabinet' decided to try again to get someone to run it. They advertised a tender to comply with EU tendering requirements and re-tendered the pool on a contract with five years duration.

We were told they had nine expressions of interest - most of which said 5 years wasn't long enough to recover the investment they would have to put into the pool.

So it was re-re-tendered with a 12 year contract.

Interest came back to the table, but at the end of the day, despite sexing up the interest by saying there were potentially nine bidders, only six remained as credible bidders at the 'Invitation to tender' stage, and only two bids actually materialised on the tender closing date.

Those were from the companies that had expressed an interest before the two re-tendering adverts - the long standing interest of the Fylde Coast YMCA and, more recently, the company operating a leisure facility in Chorley. (Who planned to create a new charitable organisation that was to be called 'Fylde Leisure' to operate the St Annes pool).

The majority of those who pulled out of the tendering process thought the pool now required too much investment to make a return (that is, considering how little the Council was prepared to put in to support the facility).

The closure of St Annes pool (as opposed to its mothballing), has cost us dear.

We have said before, and we repeat here: this was an awful tender.

Tenders are supposed to include a specification of the goods or service you want the tenderer to provide, and their tender is the cost of providing it.

If your specification is so vague that you say "I want something to take me from Lands End to John O'Groats", you'll get tenders for walking shoes, boats, aeroplanes and probably a dozen other solutions. How on earth are you going to evaluate those bids against each other?

Its a nonsense to compare trainers with an aeroplane, but in effect that's just what Fylde did.

The specification for running the pool was written almost 12 months ago, when there was no real enthusiasm or commitment on the Council's part. It used this form of words:

"The Council is seeking to reduce any subsidy that is required to operate the swimming pool and would like to achieve a revenue from the pool, or at least minimise its year on year revenue cost per annum, from those who are going to tender to submit proposals on how they think this could be achieved by managing and operating the facility in the future.

From the starting point of a closed pool the council is willing to consider any proposal and is giving all prospective tenderers virtually a blank sheet of paper to operate the facility with very few conditions.

Tenderers should therefore submit proposals on how they would intend to open and operate the facility bearing in mind the tender evaluation criteria.

Tender submission should include a breakdown of financial projections for the period of the contract. This should include any proposed capital expenditure and revenue and how this will be financed together with all revenue costs. The Tenderer should also indicate how this will reduce any subsidy required and any how any expenditure will provide an improved service to the customer other than just reopening the facility as it was previously."

Now, any leisure operator reading that would know immediately that this was a Council trying to offload what it saw as a liability.

It was a Council that had no intention of providing a leisure service. There was no possibility that this might become a sort of partnership together, with shared values to deliver a leisure service for residents.

From the documentation, it was clear there was only one thing the Council wanted out of this - money. (That said, our own belief is that, in this case, electoral necessity was rapidly becoming the mother of re-opening)

The Council had not specified any requirement for opening times for the pool, or prices to be charged, or any split between public and private use, or whether memberships may be offered, or whether swim teaching was important or whether the Council has particular target groups (children, old people, disabled) that had to be catered for.

Instead, tenderers were asked to provide a list of what they expected to charge for services provided, and the projected income from such charges. They were also asked if and how they would accommodate School Swimming and, if they planned to offer it, free swimming for under 16’s and over 60’s.

This is no way to go about writing a tender if you want to make meaningful comparisons of bids received.

As anyone with an inch of contracting experience would have told them, the bids they did receive could never be meaningfully compared.

Yes, the Council had set out a theoretical process to 'evaluate' the tenders. Like a teacher marking an exam they would award 40% for "Quality" and 60% for "Price"

The 40% was further broken down into :

  • Method (approach, business plan; vision; mission statement; strategic aims; staffing structure; staff qualifications and experience; sub contracting, and performance monitoring) 15%,
  • Community Benefits (availability of the service to the community; and meeting the Councils vision statement or whatever) 5%,
  • Sustainability (Environmental policy; and - don't laugh - approach to equality and diversity; proposed capital and revenue investment; additional training etc) 10%
  • Customer care (Action plan; innovation; quality assurance, etc) 5%
  • Quality of the submission (Have they answered all the questions and issues; have they provided evidence are the i's dotted and the t's crossed) 5%

Then each of these was scored from 1 to 10 by a panel of what appears to be four senior officers, (Planning, Surveying, Leisure, Accountancy) and someone from the Amateur Swimming Association.

There were also interviews by the same team which, for this purpose,  was widened to include the Council's Procurement Officer, together with political input from Councillor Susan Fazackerley and Councillor Christine Ackeroyd. (Note the absence of non-Conservatives here. There's no sign of looking for building a cross-council consensus around this important decision)

So what was in the bids, what was it that was on offer?

YMCA
Well broadly, the YMCA's bid offered two options, either:

  1. The YMCA lease the building and manage the pool as part of the St Annes YMCA operation (probably with cross subsidy funding between the two), or;
  2. To lease the building and manage of the pool as an independent cost centre (which would require a much higher initial capital expenditure and probably involve adding a fitness centre to the pool to increase its revenue potential).

We understand the focus has been on option 1,  the essence of which was to reopen St Annes pool as part of a portfolio of their leisure assets across the Fylde Coast. They want to extend their existing 'Aquasafe' programme that majors on water safety as well as learning to swim, and we understand they are prepared to look at a resident and / or leisure card initiative valid throughout Fylde and Wyre, if both councils agree to that idea.

Their plans could include a GP exercise referral programme, cardiac rehabilitation, and various other fitness promoting programmes.

Because the Council decided to allocate the funding for free swimming to Kirkham, the YM can't offer a full free swimming programme for under 16 and over 60s at St Annes, but they would hope to offer free use at some off peak times until the end of March 2011.

They would also offer an extensive swimming lesson programme; they would reintroduce a schools swimming programme, and the pool will be integrated as an additional activity in the YM's childcare play scheme, and as an outreach and partnership working centre for their work in prevention and addiction rehabilitation.

Opening times would be similar to when the Council operated it, and it would be open for at least 60 hours a week. Charges would be more or less as per the YM's present pricing model. (£4.10 - £4-70 for an adult swim and £2.00 to £2-40 for a junior swim)

The YMCA want all users to be able to claim their parking fees back at reception, and for these to be refunded by FBC.

Sadly, their costing assumptions have been based on closing the learner pool at St Annes to keep staffing costs to what they describe as being "in line with the budget".

Commercial Provider (Fylde Leisure)
The offer here was very different. They proposed to create a new company called Fylde Leisure (structured as a Charitable Trust), and this would operate as a ‘Not for profit with limited guarantee’ organisation registered with the Charity Commission. This would be the legal entity running the pool.

Their bid assumed working in partnership with the Council to deliver a broad leisure service, including swimming.

They wanted the contract to have 3, 6, and 9 year evaluation, re-negotiation and break options in the contract, with a 6 year option to extend beyond the 12 year contract.

They proposed complimentary services to the swimming pool, including an integrated fitness suite; sauna, and steam room; reception lounge and new spectator / waiting area; whilst modernising all three changing rooms and shower facilities.

They planned an improved reception area including a new atrium; new signage; reception desk with low level access; small lounge area with large screen display; an electronic membership card/key fob system; CCTV; vending machines and accessories for sale; new two tier lockers, with some refurbishment of the changing rooms and shower area. Refurbishment of disabled changing rooms and a separate schools changing area.

Essentially the plan was to put a 32 station fitness suite to the ground floor, (adjacent to the main reception replacing what was the Managers office, toilets and staff kitchen). They also planned to refurbish and re-open the first floor spectator area with vending machines with additional poolside facilities for spectators.

In addition to the swimming and fitness suite etc, the company also envisaged providing the broad range of leisure services such as crown green bowls, tennis, putting, pitch and putt, bike hire, beach sports and fitness classes as part of a membership offer - by making use of existing Council facilities.

For the swimming, they proposed to offer community swimming (either pay as you go, or memberships) with swimming lessons, aqua aerobics, single-sex sessions and private club hire. They also planned (subject to some timing restrictions) to offer free swimming for Fylde residents aged 16 and under, and free swimming and spa for Fylde residents for adults aged 60 and over regardless of the government’s decision to extend the free swimming initiative.

The free swimming times would be 1pm to 5pm weekdays and 1pm to 3pm at weekend. Under 16 Fylde residents could swim for free at any time when accompanied 1:1 by a full paying visitor or Fylde Leisure member. Under 16s would also get fitness and sporting facilities free of charge.

The opening times would be 8am to 9pm weekdays and 9am to 4.30pm weekends. An early morning (from 6.30am) and late night (up to 10.00pm) swim session would be introduced once an established membership existed, or on large demand.

Adult swimming on a pay as you go basis would be around £4 with the fitness suite £4.50, or a day pass for £6.50.

However the main source of expected income was to be memberships at £30 a month or £300 for the year. Over 60s would be £20 a month or £200 a year.

There were other services and options to be offered as well, including reduced rate corporate membership for employees of larger local businesses and organisations, and the option to add 'swimming only' to an existing fitness package for those that already had them.

Their scheme envisaged that 'annual members' receive a free car park permit and that the Council may wish to consider granting 'free parking months' annually, for example in January and September which are predominantly recruitment months for leisure membership. As an alternative, pay as you go users would receive a refund of their parking charge by discounting their admission to the pool/fitness suite.

So, to summarise

With the YM, the tendered service was chiefly swimming. Whilst the commercial company was offering what appeared to be a very comprehensive leisure package (bowling, tennis, fitness, sauna, steam, beach sports and facilities) which included swimming - for what most existing leisure club users will say was a very low price.

As we said in an earlier article - Fylde's choice in this matter was the impossible one - like the little girl in the TV advert being asked to choose between 'Chips and Daddy'

So what about the costs?

Which was the cheapest and which was the most expensive.

With 60% of the marks going for cost, who scored best?

YMCA
We were surprised to find that the YM did not appear to have estimated the extent of refurbishment works necessary at the pool, and had submitted their tender subject to a full structural survey being carried out on behalf of the YMCA, and that would form the basis of work being agreed as necessary. They expected this work to be funded and carried out by FBC prior to reopening. We think there could be a problem here, but FBC has set aside around half a million so there may be enough in the pot.

The YM have allowed one off setup costs of around £67,000 and annual costs which are around £46,000 for repairs & maintenance of the building and equipment, and another £15,000 or so for what they call 'major repairs', but they will require any costs that are over £15,000 relating to large and significantly long-term investments to be met by the Council - who will also be responsible for the structural maintenance of the building itself.

Broadly, for the first five years of the term, we believe they expect the annual running costs to vary between £456,000 and £514,000 (average £485,000) a year, with income in the order of £250,000 to £280,000 (average £264,000).

We understand they are proposing a subsidy of their own that would be in the region of £83,000 to £102,000 (average £93,000) a year, leaving Fylde to find something in the order of £123,700 to £132,000 (average £128,000) a year as an ongoing subsidy.

So as we see it, their cost to Fylde would be:

  • A one-off, but at present unknown, cost to put the building and plant into good order.
  • The YM's one-off setup costs of around £67,000
  • A subsidy which in the first year will be £123,700 rising with inflation over the term and estimated to average around £127,000 a year (that's £10,600 a month as compared with the £11,000 a month they wanted 20 months ago)
  • The Council will also have to meet any repair and renewal or future investment costs that exceed the annual £15,000 allowance estimated by the YM

Commercial Provider (Fylde Leisure)
They reckon the cost of works and repairs that they want to see to the pool and building will be around £305,000 and they wanted to project-manage that work themselves. But, like the YMCA their bid is conditional that that all areas of the pool, poolside, plant room, air handling unit, under floor heating and building in general is in full operational working order prior to their taking full control of the pool.

They have allowed £40,000 for marketing in year one, and an annual sum of £30,000 for ongoing maintenance of the building and plant and equipment.

Like the YMCA, costs relating to large and significantly long-term investments will be required to be met Fylde Borough Council.

They believe their running costs over the first five years would be between £551,000 and £730,000 (averaging £626,000) a year.

They expect their income during the same period to vary between £568,000 and £811,000 (averaging £706,000), leaving them with a surplus or deficit ranging from -£850 to +£162,000 (averaging +£80,000 a year)

However, some of their income above will come from outdoor games sites, and they estimate that will range between £28,000 and £44,000 (average £36,000) a year, and this would be paid back to the Council.

From FBC they want £200,000 as a one off start-up subsidy, and access to up to £30,000 a year if they need it (which they hope, and have assumed not to, need in their costing projections) for years 2-6. After year six there would be no cost to the Council at all.

They also noted that, as a not for profit organisation, Fylde Leisure would commit to reinvest all profits into improving sport and leisure recreational facilities to the Fylde community.

So as we see it their offer to Fylde was:

  • A one-off, but at present unknown, cost to put the building and plant into good order.
  • The one-off setup costs of £200,000
  • Access to a subsidy of £30,000 that might or might not be needed for years 2-6
  • A projected income to the council from the outdoor games sites averaging £36,000 a year
  • The Council would have to meet any repair and renewal or future investment costs that exceed the annual £30,000 allowance

On the face of it, the most financially advantageous scheme (by quite a long shot) is the private sector one. Using both sets of averaged figures, over the first five years, the worst case comparison would be roughly....
 

  YMCA Fylde Leisure
Put building into order Unknown Unknown
One off setup cost £ 67,000  £ 200,000
Ongoing subsidy (5 Yrs) £ 635,000  £ 150,000
Income from games sites  £ 0 £ -80,000
Large future items unquantified unquantified

TOTAL

 £ 702,000 £ 270,000

As you'll see, there is quite a difference in costing, and with this being 60% of the bid 'evaluation' you'd wonder why it was the YM that was recommended for acceptance.

We're now going to move away from the bids for a moment, to look at the costs of putting the building back into order.

This cost makes no difference to the comparative costings because it applies to both bids, but we thought readers would like to know more about the cost of putting the building back into order.

There have been some works already undertaken to the main pool tank, (which had lost some tiles as we predicted would be the case) and some maintenance works have been carried out at a cost of around £12,000. This was taken from property repair and maintenance budgets identified for other places.

When the pool was closed there were outstanding works and repairs needed that were not done, and which are now expected to cost £307,000. That doesn't include replacement of the big air handling unit which is said to have been "checked" at this stage.

These works are required to make operation of the pool safe, and we understand that a comprehensive survey has not been carried out. Officers are currently working on the details of what works are needed, and are seeking quotations. They expect to do it as a series of small individual trade-based contracts rather than by appointing a main contractor overall.

In terms of overall costs and budgets, the Council expects to pay £148,785 in the current year. That includes the current operating costs (water, rates, light, heat and so on) from April to August 2010. It also includes most of the setup costs for the YMCA, and a part-year management fee to the YMCA.

Compared with the revenue budget they'd set for the pool in March, FBC is £29,785 short, so they're going to pinch some money that just came in from Government (that no one really knows about yet). This was £30,000 and it came as an 'area based grant'

We'd normally expect such sums of unexpected and unbudgeted income to be reported to the full Council for them to decide what to do with it, but hey, what do we know about it.

In future years, the sum payable to the YM will be £178,000 a year. That includes the sum requested in the YMCA tender, and the interest and principal repayments totalling £48,000 a year on FBC's loan to repair the building and plant, together a "minor contingency" of between £400 and £4,000 a year which, so far as we can see, has no justification except that it is the difference each year between what is now the known cost, and what was provided in Fylde's budget.

In terms of capital costs (the Money FBC is going to borrow to put the pool back into order), there is a £15,000 payment to the YM that is part of the startup costs, together with the estimated refurbishment costs of £307,000 as set out above. That gives a total of £322,000 (assuming they don't find anything unexpected 'in the woodwork' when they start work on the big repairs.

FBC planned to borrow £475,000 to fund this work, so they now expect to have a 'surplus' of £153,000 (475-322) which they're going to hang on to, in case they need it for future major items of repair. We think that's probably a good idea, others may take the view they should borrow less and reduce the interest payments.

So dear reader, going back to those comparative costs in the table above, if the costs of putting the building into order are the same for both tenders, how come the YMCA were recommended for the job and approved by the Cabinet when they are nearly three times as expensive?

Well, it seems they thought the main pros and cons with the bid from the YMCA were:

  • Well established, proven track record, but uninspiring proposal.
  • Provides FBC's prime objective to provide public swimming (although that's not what their tender said)
  • The bid was comprehensive and conservative in its use estimates and costings.

Broadly speaking the overall impression was "could have tried harder"

The main pros and cons with the bid from Fylde Leisure were:

  • Good methodology on paper but questionable in reality.
  • Their business plan was unsupported by evidence, and proposed usage on dry side was thought to be unachievable.
  • Good community focused bid, with innovative proposals for use other leisure & fitness activities such as golf, bowls & beach sports.
  • Didn't meet the Council's sustainability requirements.
  • Concerns over not achieving membership numbers. Seems unsustainable financially after year 2.
  • Possible Health and Safety issues regards numbers in gym at one time. Strong commercial incentive to retain customers though.
  • Some financial errors in calculations.
  • Some good ideas in terms of marketing for membership, but poor operational & facility capacity understanding.
  • Also felt to be a lack of focus on swimming as the primary use of the facility
  • But a main concern was doubt in the assumption that the facility can achieve and sustain a commercial membership of 2000 plus.

The overall impression was "trying too hard, and may not work"

The view of those assessing the bid seems to have been that they thought the estimated usage and memberships by Fylde Leisure were unachievable, and there was a significant risk of failure.

Given the break clauses proposed by Fylde Leisure after 3, 6 and 9 years, the Council would have little chance of being able to carry on if a failure did occur. Furthermore, in such an event, the Council would probably face demands from Fylde Leisure (and perhaps from users) to further subsidise the operation - to ensure it didn't close.

They appear to have thought the YMCA bid was uninspiring, but the YM was a safe pair of hands that offered the best chance of securing the future of the pool, even if it was more costly.

We're going to take issue with part of that statement in a moment, But first we want to make a comparison between the ethos and values of the two organisations. We think this might help to explain what's going on under the surface, and why this decision is being made this way.

The YMCA has not always been popular with previous administrations at Fylde. We've never been able to bottom why this was, but there was certainly something - perhaps something in the more distant past - that estranged Fylde from the YM. The present administration doesn't seem to share that concern and has moved much closer to the YM.

The YM is known as a steady pair of hands and does a lot of good work in the community. They have an ethos similar to that of former Fylde councils. They are motivated by the public good (at least as they see it). They are also ready to cross-subsidise what they see as need with income from those that can afford to pay more.

But being a safe pair of hands comes at the price of being less thrusting, innovative, and risk-taking, than a more commercially orientated body.

Fylde Leisure (or, more properly what would become Fylde Leisure), operates with an entrepreneurial ethos. They are impatient for results. They want it NOW! They are not afraid to experiment and try things out, and if they don't work, they'll try something else. This sits very badly with even the more progressive of local authorities and, (despite what John Coombes thinks) Fylde isn't one of them.

So inevitably, this entrepreneurial ethos rubs against the grain of a council's operation, where the YM is quite a shoe-in.

In many ways, Fylde Leisure remind us of the early days of the Pleasure Island proposals. They were going to be this, that, and the other - marvellous and innovative facilities. The operator was brimming with confidence and enthusiasm.

When it didn't quite work out: no problem. Costs were cut to the bone to make things work (second-hand cinema seats and so on), but in the end, despite the undoubted enthusiasm and not inconsiderate business acumen of the operator, their efforts - in their own words to us at the time - "were haemorrhaging cash" and as we all know, the Island folded.

The fundamental problem here is that the resort does not have what they call the 'footfall' sufficient to justify facilities that will make the big leisure players any money, so we are reliant on small-scale operators who are, by their very nature, are better able to contain costs. But they are also inherently more risky.

We can't help wondering if this sort of nagging doubt is lurking at the back of the minds of those that have been dealing with this matter of the pool, and they have plumped for the safer, and more expensive option, perhaps even without realising a prejudice that might exist from dealings with Pleasure Island.

We wouldn't be surprised to find this perception, or something like it, has existed since the first proposals from 'Fylde Leisure' last year, but the Council had no objective way of sidelining those proposals without a formal tendering process. And because the proposals included a fitness suite (that would compete with the YM's own setup), a tendering process might usefully persuade the YM to sharpen its pencil a bit more as well.

After all, if Fylde had wanted to go with the entrepreneurial scheme, they could have done so when there was no bid from the YMCA and this was the 'last man standing' (so to speak) last year.

In our view, the fact that they didn't grab the opportunity at the time speaks volumes.

But the fat lady's not singing yet. There are a number of things that could still cause changes.

First, the YMCA board has to approve the proposal - apparently on 13th May. We find this a bit odd, because normally a tender is a binding document and all the necessary permissions and authorities should be in place before the bid is submitted. However, Fylde works in its own style these days, and might have allowed for that in the tender documents.

Second, whilst Fylde has allowed a very large sum for repair and replacement, it is possible that the costs will exceed even the large sum of cash available.

We have spoken before about the Air Handling Unit.   If the pool is to be run as it was designed to run, this has a lifespan of around 20 years under good operation and maintenance conditions. It cost around £275,000 last time it was replaced (we think that was in the late 1990's) so even with good care, it will be due for replacement within the term of this contract. And it hasn't had good care for the last 20 months.

Others may be less worried, but we are quite concerned, and by now it will probably cost £350,000 or more to replace. That won't leave much change out of £475,000 for anything else.

But finally, in terms of future of the pool (that bit that we said earlier that we would take issue with), the most worrying aspect of all is at the end of the draft lease - which says

"At any time after the first twelve months either party may terminate the agreement on giving one month’s notice if any of the trigger events set out in 'paragraph 21' occur.

21. Trigger Events

  1. At the end of any financial year the Tenant has incurred losses over the last 12 months which exceed those shown in the revenue projections for that year, provided at the commencement of the lease, by more than £100,000

  2. At any time the contributions paid by FBC towards all or any aspects of the operation of the pool are, in its opinion, unaffordable

  3. Either the Landlord or the Tenant proposes to redevelop the site

  4. Either the Landlord or the Tenant proposes to relocate the swimming facility to another site

  5. Major repairs are required to either the building or plant, and those costs are, in the opinion of the Landlord, unaffordable"

As you will see, those would be quite easy to bring into play if anyone wanted to do so.

Also worrying for us, was the alternative to accepting either of these offers, (as set out in the Cabinet agenda) where it said "To reject both bids and propose demolition of the facility would leave a significant gap in the Seafront ‘asset’ at a time when the Council is working with the Regional Development Agency towards Classis Resort status and in preparation for the Open in 2012."

So, to conclude dear reader: we've heard people say that re-opening of the pool is nothing more than a cynical election stunt to help the Conservatives regain the trust of the electorate before the Council elections next May. And on the face of it, with lease terms as above, it's tempting to believe that argument has some justification.

We're not necessarily claiming the move is an intentional plan in that direction by the Conservatives. But, for example, if some unexpected costs appear next year, or if someone offers to build and run a new pool, or if there is a comprehensive plan to re-develop the promenade and maybe 'The Island' site supported by the North West Development Agency that Fylde's officers are keen to suck up to, you can see how easy it would be to close it again.

So whilst we welcome the move to re-open the pool, we retain have some nagging doubts about its future.

Dated:   7 May 2010


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