It is with sadness and a complete acknowledgment that the decision to close Arthur Hill Pool in December is a tough one for people to accept or understand. We know people are hugely fond of Arthur Hill, people learnt to swim there, it is small, local and quite cosy. But it is also 105 years old.
Residents will recall the many emergency closures that have occurred recently; it has been failing structurally for a number of years and we have spent several hundreds of thousands of pounds shoring it up over those years.
It will now cost more than £700,000 to repair the pool structurally, and we will still be left with a facility that was built in the early twentieth century, with a very limited lifespan and very limited capacity to modernise or to offer a wide range of swimming opportunities.
In the context of having to find another £41m in savings [reducing our operating budget from £120m to £80m] over the next 3 or 4 years, we have taken the decision that we should not spend any more money shoring up a pool that has come to the end of its life and costs well over £100,000 a year to run. The Administration will commit to sell the site and use the proceeds to build a new modern pool in Palmer Park. Labour Councillors in east Reading will make sure this is a promise that is kept as soon as possible.
We understand that people are rightly angry and upset by this decision, but as will be reported to Policy Committee the same evening, we have huge budget pressures in Children’s Services, where there has been an 86% increase in referrals, there are also pressures from an aging population for Adults Social Care. These are statutory duties which we have to carry out. As the Tory government continue to axe the money they give us to run services in Reading, the more likely it is that much loved and valued places such as Arthur Hill Pool will have to close.
Below is the Press release from RBC:
Council Commits to Arthur Hill Pool Replacement
Reading Borough Council Press Release
ARTHUR HILL swimming pool will be closed and replaced with a modern new 25-metre pool at nearby Palmer Park, under proposals being considered at a meeting of the Council’s Policy Committee later this month (September 26).
The ageing facility would shut from December 19th this year. It would be replaced in 3 to 4 years’ time with a modern new 6-lane swimming pool at Palmer Park Stadium, linked to existing leisure facilities.
Latest figures show unprecedented cuts in Government funding and increasing demands on services mean the Council needs to tackle an estimated budget gap of over £41 million by 2020. £65 million worth of savings have already been made since 2011.
The facilities at Arthur Hill are dated and expensive to run and the pool has been forced to shut a number of times for essential works. The estimated cost of bringing the building to an acceptable standard is more than £700,000, and even then it would have a limited lifespan.
At a time of severe budget constraints, the Council can no longer afford to invest in outdated facilities which would only remain operational for a limited period of time. Instead the Council is proposing to invest money – including from the sale of the Arthur Hill site – in a modern new swimming facility for east Reading.
A forced closure of the pool is also increasingly likely due to its poor condition. The proposed scheduled closure would allow regular pool users to plan for using alternative swimming facilities at Central Pool, Academy Sport, Rivermead and Meadway Sports Centre, including the four schools currently using Arthur Hill for swimming lessons who would be hosted at other pools.
Paul Gittings, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Culture and Sport, said:
“The need to replace Arthur Hill has been known for some time now. Realistically, only a huge investment will allow it to remain open and unprecedented Government cuts means we are not in a position to invest money in ageing facilities with a limited lifespan.
“Instead the plan is to reinvest money – including from the sale of the site – into a new 25-metre 6 lane pool in Palmer Park linked to existing leisure and sport facilities. People rightly expect modern and good quality sports facilities. In terms of value for money and the provision of modern sports facilities for residents, that has to be the much better option.
“We hope people appreciate the Council’s commitment to investing in a brand new replacement pool in the east of the borough, which in itself a big commitment given the severe budget constraints.
“Of course we understand that for regular users of Arthur Hill, and residents who swam there when they were young, this is a significant step. The scale of Government cuts we face mean we have very little option, and the reality is Arthur Hill is on a constrained site with limited capacity and with very little scope for improvement.
“By making this announcement now, we hope to give regular users time to plan for using the borough’s alternative facilities at Central Pool, Academy Sport, Rivermead and Meadway Sports Centre. This is preferable to having to close the pool with absolutely no notice when the current building inevitably fails.”
The full September 26th Policy Committee report can be found at: www.reading.gov.uk/article/9598/Policy-Committee-26-SEP-2016 (Item 9A)
The proposals follow the Council’s announcement in November for two new swimming pools to replace ageing and outdated facilities at Central Pool and Arthur Hill. The Council is in the early stages of a procurement exercise for the design, build and operation of the new pools. Current estimates are that the new facilities will open by 2020.
The Council’s budget position means it cannot continue to invest in Arthur Hill pending the opening of a replacement pool in Palmer Park. As well as removing the high costs of on-going repairs and maintenance estimated at over £700,000, shutting Arthur Hill in December saves £325,000 on running costs over the next three year period. In addition the Council will generate a capital receipt from the sale of the site and the value of this will be reinvested in the new swimming facilities for east Reading at Palmer Park.
As well as two new pools, the Council also announced in November that it would build a temporary demountable pool at Rivermead, adding to the existing leisure facilities on the site and to ensure continuity of provision. Alongside this, enhanced bus services to Rivermead will be in place from this autumn. This will include a new hourly bus service between Rivermead and the Town Centre from October this year (effectively an extension to the new route serving the new housing development at Kenavon Drive) comprising 11 buses per day Mon-Fri, 8 buses per day Sat, Sun & Bank Hols. The demountable pool is expected to open by January 2018 following a planned closure of Central Pool.