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May 4, 2011

Should communities dive in?

As Councils cast around for services to cut back on, swimming pools are starting to feature as an early target. Although notoriously expensive to run, the threat to close a swimming pool seems to engender more reaction than almost anything else.  There is now growing evidence that communities can run swimming pools well and at a profit (Atlantis and Jesmond). Could this be a solution for one community in Alloa?

The closure of Alva pool could mean the end for Alloa Amateur Swimming Club. ALLOA Amateur Swimming Club (AASC) coaches warn that closing Alva’s swimming pool could spell the club’s demise.

The club is struggling to find alternative accommodation to serve its 100 plus members before the Johnstone Centre shuts in June. If it continues coaches say it will put in jeopardy the training of Commonwealth Games hopefuls and potentially see the club fold.

They claim Clackmannanshire Council officers have failed to deliver on alternatives promised at the time the pool closure was announced. However the council says the swimming club has been offered other venues such as the Alloa Leisure Bowl and Bannockburn Pool. It also says officers are continuing to investigate facilities in Dollar and the Falkirk area and will deliver a list of venues by 28 April.

An AASC spokeswoman said, “In the past four years the club has gone from strength to strength and there is a possibility of two or three of our swimmers competing at the Commonwealth Games but the closing of Alva pool could mean the end of Alloa ASC. If we have to travel outwith Alloa to train many parents may not want to travel these routes and it will be difficult to encourage new members to join.

“When the new schools were being planned the council said there would be no need to put pools into the buildings as Alva pool would stay open. Stirling council has four pools, Falkirk council has 11 pools, Clackmannanshire council will have zero deep water pools.”

AASC is the largest youth club in Clackmannanshire, boasting more than 100 members of which 90 are swimmers. She said that while the council has offered help it has so far proved fruitless – mainly early time slots at the leisure bowl.

“The leisure bowl has a leisure pool,” she went on. “The children can’t dive, the older, taller children can’t complete their strokes properly and have great difficulty in doing a tumble turn at each end of the pool. This is almost like saying to children doing football training – go ahead and train, but you are not getting a ball.”

Now council chief executive Angela Leitch has written to the club encouraging them to “seriously explore” obtaining swimming time elsewhere themselves.

Head coach Anthony Stickland said, “Senior swimmers need 15 hours per week to compete with other performance swimmers, juniors need 11 hours per week, junior potential need at least 6 hours per week and development squads need at least four hours of swimming per week.

“If the club had more time we are quite sure a solution could be found especially now the council has found an excess of £800,000 that should be put towards our community services and not put in the bank. Why does a council as small as ours need such a large sum of money in reserve? If they put some in the pot we are sure that they could apply for funding to help keep this pool open.”

As reported last week, Clackmannanshire council’s Scrunity Committee heard of a £800,000 underspend on its budget.

While SNP party leader councillor Gary Womersley suggested the extra cash could be used on facilities earmarked for closure, such as the Alva pool, Labour administration leader Sam Ovens said the money should be used to reduce the council’s capital borrowing.

Councillor Eddie Carrick, portfolio holder for sustainability. told the Advertiser, “Through active management of our expenditure we will have a slight underspend for last financial year and it is vital that we use this prudently. We are expecting significant further reductions in funding over the next few years and need to keep as much as possible in reserves to allow for this.

“This means taking difficult decisions now so that we will be able to continue statutory services to the most vulnerable in the future, rather than simply delaying the closure of a pool that will continue to cost over £500,000 a year, every year, to subsidise.

“The Council approved an asset management plan in September 2010 which stated that all Council property should be efficient and effective – sadly Alva Pool cannot be described as either of these things, with high running costs and low numbers of users. We currently subsidise each swim at Alva by £7 and this level of subsidy is unsustainable.