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Residents raise concerns about councils’ handling of Newark and Sherwood District Council’s £5.5million plans for new pool at Southwell Town Council meeting

Residents have questioned a council about its lack of action after plans were put forward for a new £5.5m pool in Southwell.

Around 20 residents attended a full council meeting of Southwell Town Council to raise concerns about plans to build a new pool in the town instead of repairing the existing facility.

Newark and Sherwood District Council announced plans to build a new £5.5m swimming complex near the existing leisure centre in December, to replace the existing leisure centre pool — which it confirmed would not re-open after a serious leak was discovered.

The pool at Southwell Leisure Centre has been closed due to a leak.
The pool at Southwell Leisure Centre has been closed due to a leak.

The council concluded that its calculation of more than £600,000 to fix the pool would not be good use of taxpayer’s money when it could invest in a new pool and teaching pool.

Any further details of the planned pool have yet to be disclosed by the council, and the project is currently facing delays due to legal issues related to land ownership.

Members of the public spoke at the town council meeting, and questioned why Southwell Town Council was not “shouting from the rooftops” and pushing the district council for details.

Chairman Martin Stott reiterated comments he made at previous discussions, confirming that as soon as Newark and Sherwood District Council presented the town council with its plans, he would call an extraordinary meeting for both councillors and the public to attend, where the details could be discussed.

Southwell Leisure Centre, Southwell.
Southwell Leisure Centre, Southwell.

He also suggested the meeting would not take place in the council’s headquarters at the Old Courthouse, but in a larger venue so more residents can attend.

While the council asserted they had not yet been asked to comment on plans or make any decisions, on member of the public said: “It’s a major part of the town… you could put forward a view.”

Another branded the trustees as “scapegoats”, and claimed the behaviour of the district council was “asset grabbing”.

Gina Adams, who admitted she was fairly new to the area as a councillor, explained she had had a private conversation with the district council about the land.

She said: “They felt a leasehold wouldn’t afford the protection needed for a £5.5m investment.”

Further concerns were raised about the truth of the costs of the pool being repaired, the revenue being lost while the pool is closed, and the potential of rising costs of construction meaning the project would exceed the £5.5 million budget — with one member of the public suggesting “it will end up at £12.2m with rising costs”.

Another resident added: “I don’t have a strong opinion on repair or building, but I reject the lack of clarity.”

A request was also made for the town council to approach Newark and Sherwood to ask for sight of their options appraisal for the pool, and for that action to be added to the agenda.

Another added the council needed to “grow a spine” and stand up to the district council.

Many of the comments made by residents were met with raucous applause from others in attendance.

Roger Blaney said it was important to remember the background between the council and leisure centre, as Newark and Sherwood District Council was responsible for funding the squash courts, sports hall, social hall, fitness suite and teaching pool at the leisure centre, and had invested funds from its council tax income into the leisure centre each year up until the pandemic.

The district council, Mr Blaney added, had also taken over the running of the site from the trustees during the pandemic when the choice was between closing the centre or asking Newark and Sherwood to take it on.

“I do believe it would be the start of a whole new leisure centre in Southwell, and that is a prize everyone should want,” he added.
“If the repair is forced the £5.5m investment will most likely be off the table.”

Additionally, Mr Blaney highlighted his role as leader of the district council when the Newark Sports and Fitness Centre complex got the go-ahead, a project which he said came in under budget upon completion, and suggested there had been a spread of misinformation online relating the pool plans.

John Lightwood added that he experience in both running and using leisure centre facilities, and said the plans were at a delicate stage which meant it was “difficult for [the council] to make comments at this moment”.

He added that he had been working every day on behalf of residents since the plan was announced, and didn’t like “someone telling me to get off my backside”.

The pool closure previously sparked the creation of a petition to Save Southwell Pool and a group of the same name.

It called for repairs to be made to allow the pool to be used in the interim before the new facility was built.

At the most recent cabinet meeting, Newark and Sherwood District Council leader Paul Peacock said that the council was committed to the residents of Southwell to build the new swimming pool and that their commitment stand firm.

When plans for the investment were announced, he said: “Southwell Leisure Centre is a well-used and important community facility that has served the local area well for about 60 years.

“Not surprisingly, it is showing signs of its age and having taken on the facility two years ago to rescue it from closure, the council is having to spend a lot of money sorting out longstanding repair items. The most significant of these is the main pool which has been leaking a large amount of water. We closed the pool to investigate the cause of the leak and following extensive investigations, we have concluded that spending over £600,000 to fix the pool would not be good use of taxpayer’s money.

“Instead, we want to build a completely new swimming facility on land adjacent to the current leisure centre. This will cost a lot of money — an estimated £5.5m — and we’ll need the support of partners and landowners to make it happen. But this is better value for money in the long term and should be seen as a first step towards replacing all of the current leisure centre with a new one.”

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