June 5, 2013
The price of trust
Building strong, positive relationships with the communities they serve is a real challenge for local authorities, but increasingly the ability to work alongside local groups is seen as key to the future shape of public services. Central to this process is the building of trust. Trust is a fickle commodity – once lost, it’s so much harder to regain. Edinburgh Council’s decision to renege on its agreement with a Leith group over the future of a swimming complex has all the hallmarks of an own goal which they may live to regret.
The community group who wanted to run Leith Waterworld are “infuriated” and “heartbroken” the council have decided to sell it to a soft play company.
The centre was closed by the local authority in January last year and they planned to sell the site to help fund the refurbishment of the Royal Commonwealth Pool.
The sale had been put on hold while community group Splashback try and put forward a bid to run the site themselves and save it from closure.
In January, a full council meeting decided to give the group until the end of the year to come up with a viable plan for Waterworld.
At a full meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council on Thursday, the coalition which runs the local authority was accused of “renegading” on their promise as they agreed to sell the site for £1m.
Green Cllr Chas Booth, who has supported the Splashback campaign, said community groups could no longer trust the council who have chosen profit over the people they serve.
He said: “That profit comes at the expense of renegading on a commitment to a community group. The council are pulling the rug out from under the community group, they’re renegading on a commitment less than half way through the process.
“What message does that send to community groups? It sends a message that we will talk to you, we might even listen to your plans but only until a better offer comes along from a commercial company.”
The coalition of Labour and SNP decided to take up the bid from A&G Property.
Cllr Richard Lewis, defending the decision at the full council meeting, said it was the best thing to do.
He said: “I genuinely believe this is the best deal the council can be expected to deliver in this economic climate.”
Councillors approved the sale, along with a grant of £125,000 for swimming programmes for Edinburgh’s primary pupils.
A&G Property will spend £1.3m installing multi-level soft play, slides, climbing areas, indoor go karts, mini sport pitches, party rooms, a café and restaurant.
Campaign group Splashback said they were disappointed with the decision.
A spokesman for the group said: “We are infuriated and dismayed that City of Edinburgh Councillors today pulled the plug on Leith Waterworld for good.
“The bid accepted today is a poor result for Leith, for families, children, the disabled or the local community. Losing this unique and much loved fun pool is an utter tragedy for the city – such infrastructure is unlikely ever to be replaced.
“We are heartbroken that we have not been able to save the pool, despite our best efforts. We know this will be deeply felt by many across the city. We would like to thank everyone for your overwhelming support for the campaign.”