14 Mar 2010

Pooling our resources

As time runs out for people to comment on the council's plans for the new leisure facilities to replace the crumbling Westminster Lodge, I am in two minds about the pool issue.

Protesters, who even have their own (rather swish) website, say it is crazy to spend £25 million on a pool that will only have room for nine extra swimmers. The proposed one would be shorter, but wider, than the current one. 25 metres (ooh look - a million quid a metre) is half olympic length, and standard for small competitions.

With Bricket Wood pool closing and the population of St Albans expanding, it would seem sensible to build a bigger pool. The current one already reaches capacity sometimes. But at what cost? No-one seems to be able to put forward a figure for the alternative. It seems the only other size possible would be full-size Olympic 50m, which would presumably add many millions to the cost.

If that extra money comes out of council budgets for social services, transport improvements and housing, I'm not sure it would be worth it. The council are already talking about borrowing £19 million for the project, which they'll be paying back with interest of course.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Thanks for mentioning our website (and being nice about us!). I do see your point about the costs of a new centre, and as is often the case with such projects much of the argument is about what it should and should not include. We favour an emphasis on water space because we think it is widely used to such great benefit and enjoyment by such a large cross section of the community. If choices have/had to be made we would favour cutting features like the mud bath treatment rooms and the bistro rather than the size of the pool... but- I know- pools are expensive to build and expensive to run.

In our defence I would say that a larger 50m pool is more energy efficient per-square-meter (Bricket Wood pool has just closed, after all) and we are trying to push for the installation of a photovoltaic array which should at least help to mitigate some of the base-load associated with running a larger pool (council figures suggest the array would cost no more than 1% of the current build estimate). The old Westminster Lodge is indeed on its last legs, and there’s now a prominent energy efficiency ‘fail’ notice on the wall creating the overall impression of some sort of giant clapped-out old washing machine... but £26 million is a lot of money for a replacement. At one end of the spectrum I guess the cheapest and greenest thing to do would be just to knock down Westminster Lodge and not build *anything at all* to replace it; zero carbon footprint after decommissioning costs (... except... swimmers would then get in their cars and drive on congested stop-start journeys to Watford and Hemel or to where ever their nearest pool happens to be... week after week after week). At the other end of the spectrum would be some sort of Dubai style multi storey indoor combined ski-water-surf-shopping-lifestyle-experience complex costing more than we could ever afford to pay back in a million years and consuming more than the power equivalent of the entirety of St. Albans. Somewhere in the middle perhaps would be to spend spectacularly less than £26 million every year keeping Westminster Lodge on life support. If we accept that we want at least some non-health-club-income-bracket-affordable public sports/swimming facilities in St. Albans then the best long-term balance point is probably to spend quite a bit up-front building a new more energy efficient facility, but only if the expected life-time of the new centre is sufficiently long (another point of contention we have with the council). Devil in detail... as ever!