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YMCA to Re-open St Annes Pool

YMCA To Reopen St Anens PoolIn 'The Pool: In Depth' two months ago, we set out the position with St Annes Pool as it was at that time.

We said the decision to close it had cost Fylde taxpayers dear, and continued to do so.

We thought the loan Fylde Council planned to take out to put the building back into order would be about 475,000 - and that would be repayable by Fylde taxpayers over their next 25 years council tax.

We said the building hadn't been properly mothballed, it had simply been closed.

And in an atmosphere as damp as a closed, sealed swimming pool building, with no heating or ventilation left on tickover, everything will be rusted, warped and corroded.

Hence the big repair and refurbishment cost.

We also said that to put that 475,000 into perspective, it was equal to 26,000 a month over the 18 months that the pool had been closed. That was double the 13,000 monthly subsidy the YMCA said it needed to keep the pool open 18 months ago.

So if we'd paid them 13,000 a month instead of closing it, we probably wouldn't need to spend the 475,000 putting it back into working order now, and we would have saved around half the cost of the loan over and above what we would have paid to the YMCA.

This an example of why we describe this administration as being financially incompetent. It would have been considerably cheaper overall if they had let the YM run it for the last 18 months.

But they didn't keep the pool going with the YM, and they didn't mothball it.

They closed it, and it's rotted.

So now it needs 475,000 spending, and that's on top of the 12,000 (or 25,000 depending on who you talk to) that it cost to do the tiling and other repairs to be able to fill the pool with water and make it safe to go inside the building to do the repairs and refurbishment.

But at least it looks as though it is going to re-open.

FBC has sent out a press release saying the Cabinet will be recommended to award a contract to run the pool for 12 years to the YMCA. There will be a 475,000 refurbishment cost and an ongoing subsidy of up to 98,000 a year, and the pool is expected to open in late summer or autumn this year, for 60 hours a week and, from what we can see, "a degree" (whatever that turns out to mean) of free swimming for under 16s and over 65s will also be available as at Kirkham.

There was another bid as well (the Cabinet only managed to attract two bidders, despite the "nine interested parties" they previously spoke proudly of). We know something of that other bid, although we're not able to bring our readers details at the moment.

From the Council's point of view this process has been very much a case of "Chips or Daddy"

Like the advert where the little girl is given an impossible choice to decide between, the Council's specification for running the pool was so unspecific they have now had to make the little girl's impossible choice.

The two schemes were so far apart in what they offered that, in our view, it was impossible to make a proper objective decision between them.

For sure, the 'tender evaluation' process has pseudo-objective measurements that supposedly allocated varying importance to 'quality' and 'price' and numbers have been subjectively allocated to various aspects so they appear to give objective scores to justify the decision.

But they only serve to obscure the underlying agenda, which was always, in our view, going to be to award the contract to the YMCA. It looks to us as though the other tenderer has been used throughout this process as lever to minimise the YM's price.

But not by much.

We won't get to hear much of the detail pricing though, especially if the YM has any input. They won't want their 'contract pricing model' that has given them control of all the public indoor leisure facilities in Wyre and Fylde (and elsewhere) exposed so it allows it's future competitors a commercial advantage over it.

So you can be pretty sure that the report on this matter will be what's known as an 'Exempt Item' and it will be 'debated' by the Cabinet in secret, with the press and public excluded to maintain the commercial confidentiality of - surprise surprise - a registered charity.

We'll see if we can get to hear what's in it for our readers.

In 'John Coombes Steps Down', we said his nemesis - the event that sealed his fate - was the 3 March 08 decision to close the pools.

But in reality, it wasn't just him.

Not one Saint Anne's Conservative Councillor voted to keep the Swimming Pool open at that meeting.

Now, the Conservative majority at Fylde are banking on re-opening the pool and getting rid of John Coombes to restore their fortune and popularity, so people will vote for them in next year's local government election.

What they've forgotten, is that when Blackpool Conservatives demolished the Derby Baths, they were 25 years out of office in the political wilderness before people got over their anger. That's a generation. And in St Annes, because of the age profile, a generation might be even longer.

It will be interesting to see how this pool cameo plays out.

In all honesty we think they've gone too far to pull back much for 2011, but only time and the election will tell.

Next Wednesday's meeting will undoubtedly agree to re-open the pool, and it will begin what they hope will be their path on the road to recovery.

It might be.

On the other hand, it might just be the beginning of even more trouble than they know how to handle. There are potential problems in the short term, and financial ones in the medium term if government funding to Fylde is cut as many expect it will be next year, and the year after.

As we said to one of the more fundamentalist Fylde Conservatives after a vote-losing diatribe against Gordon Brown and the Labour Government that both upset and turned off a lot of his potential voters attending a public meeting recently, "When most people find themselves at the bottom of a hole, the first thing they usually do, is stop digging"

It remains to be seen whether the hole in St Annes Promenade that contains the swimming pool will now become deeper than it has been in the past as a result of its re-opening. We think it could be.

Dated:   22 April  2010


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