Send us news by text, start your message Star News and your send photos and videos to 80360
Swimmers seeting at St Helens Council decision to axe Sutton pool
SWIMMERS are seething over a decision by senior councillors to go against public opinion and vote through plans to shut the pool at Sutton Leisure Centre.
Labour members on St Helens Council’s cabinet members unanimously approved the proposals to “mothball and close” the pool, which will save £180,000 a year.
Deputy council leader Barrie Grunewald said swingeing cuts by the Government to council budgets meant “unpalatable” decisions have to be made.
The council has suffered a £36m cut in funding until 2012/2013 – with a further £14m to be slashed in coming years.
He said the council’s priority is to protect “front line services” and regretfully services at Sutton Leisure Centre would have to be reduced.
Ninety eight per cent of the 163 people who responded individually to the council’s public consultation were against the pool being shutdown.
A petition of 1,142 names objecting to the proposals was also submitted.
The decision angered swimming enthusiasts, who gathered at the meeting and stormed out after being unable to ask questions or voice their opinions.
The bulk of them were pensioners, who use the pool to keep fit.
Pensioner Margaret Jones summed up the feeling of Sutton swimmers at the decision to axe the pool when she said: “We are all absolutely gutted”.
Margaret, 68, is just one of the dozens of older people who use Sutton Leisure Centre’s pool as a place for gentle exercise and to socialise.
However, shortly the plug will be pulled on a venue that many have used for more than a decade, often following advice from GPs.
Margaret, acting as spokeswoman for more than 20 swimmers, said: “We went to that meeting, told it was a public meeting, but we could not have our say, it didn’t seem right.
“I’ve been going there for 11 years. It started just for exercise but as you spend time there you become friends.
“We used to go in a morning but we went through the business of having those hours cut – now they are taking it away altogether.
“We even said we’d be willing to be more membership or charges but they took no notice.
“They say ‘go to Queens Park or go to Parr’ but they are chock-a-block.
“The councillors talked about comparing us to other towns – such as Wigan. We don’t care about that. We’re bothered about areas like Sutton, Thatto Heath and Bold who are losing out because of this.”
Legally, members of the public can attend hearings but they are not allowed to speak.
There was also fury among some Star readers as it emerged that opening hours at Sutton Leisure Centre are also set to reduced, meaning it will operate only on weekdays between 4pm and 10pm.
It will open only on weekends “as required to accommodate events”.
The move, which some claim was not made clear when the council starting consulted last year, would have significant staffing savings and curt operational costs.
Sutton Leisure Centre was subsidised by the council to a cost of £284,000 a year, £180,000 a direct subsidy of the pool.
It is staffing that is the biggest cost at the pool, with savings from the pool closure of £110,000 being made, as opposed to £67,858 for running costs, such as cleaning and rates There is thought to be little likelihood of the pool reopening in the near future.
The council attempted to put a positive spin on the news it was cutting back a sports facility less than six months after the London 2012 Olympics.
It pointed to recent improvement works at Parr pool, which have increased “the number of water areas” in which swimming lessons can be held.
This has led to lessons, previously held at Sutton, being moved to Parr.
Cllr Grunewald also pointed to research that the axing of the pool would still leave St Helens with more water space per 1,000 of population than neighbouring Wigan.
However, the decision means there is now less space to swim per person in St Helens than in Warrington, Halton, Knowsley and West Lancashire.
Critics argue that the main pool at Parr has simply been divided, meaning that although there are more “water areas” the pool space is less.
Even with Sutton running, swimmers have said that the pools can often be cramped and be busy.
The St Helens borough is left with pools at Queens Park, Parr and Selwyn Jones.