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MP Robert Jenrick’s letter about Southwell Leisure Centre pool closure branded as as misleading and insulting by Newark and Sherwood District Council leader

Newark MP Robert Jenrick has been accused of trying to score cheap political points and asked to apologise over a letter demanding answers about a swimming pool closure.

The leader of Newark and Sherwood District Council, Paul Peacock, said the letter about Southwell Leisure Centre was insulting and misleading.

Mr Jenrick wrote an open letter to Mr Peacock – published to his social media accounts on Tuesday – urgently requesting the council “clear up the mess” created by its “chaotic handling” of the temporary closure of the centre’s main swimming pool, and asked the council to confirm when the leisure centre would be reopening.

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

He also claimed multiple sources had told him council officers had said privately that the leisure centre may never re-open.

The pool was closed on October 29 after an inspection revealed essential repairs were required, and a notice of the closure explained a precise re-opening date was expected to be able to be confirmed within four weeks.

Paul Peacock said: “Robert Jenrick has got his facts wrong. Southwell Leisure Centre is not closed and if he took the trouble to visit the centre he’d know that.

“All the fitness suites, the gyms, the main sports hall, the outdoor football pitch, the squash courts — they are all open. It is the main swimming pool that has been closed to undertake investigations to establish the cause of water leaking from the pool. Even the small pool remains open so perhaps Robert Jenrick would apologise to all the customers, members of the public and staff that his misleading letter has confused.

“At this stage, we cannot say for definite when the main pool will re-open because we need to see what the investigations will reveal and what repairs are required. It’s also complete nonsense to suggest that anything is being concealed from the public. Information about the pool closure has been displayed on social media and all customers were contacted in October, prior to the main pool being closed.”

The MP’s letter followed concerns raised at a cabinet meeting on October 31, where, when questioned by Penny Rainbow, portfolio holder for health, wellbeing and leisure Susan Crosby said she could not say for definite when the pool would reopen, but hoped it would be the predicted date of December 1.

The question was posed after an officer said “if” rather than when, in relation to the reopening.

In a response to Mr Jenrick, Andy Carolan, managing director for leisure operator Active 4 Today, confirmed it expected to be able to confirm a re-opening date for the pool within three weeks — in line with the predicted timeline.

Since the meeting the Government announced the allocation of £42,578 to Southwell Leisure Centre from the Swimming Pool Support Fund, which Mr Jenrick said was done “believing the leisure centre would be operational, serving the community in Southwell”.

Paul Peacock added: “I see that the Newark MP has also questioned the council’s commitment to Southwell Leisure Centre, referring to his government’s £40,000 allocation to support rising costs across all our leisure centres. While extra money is always appreciated, again, if he’d checked his facts and understood more about what’s involved in running leisure centres, he’d realise that £40,000 was a drop in the ocean.

“Only two weeks ago, the council took a decision to invest £740,000 in additional maintenance works required at Southwell Leisure Centre. I’m not sure what clearer indication there could be of this council’s ongoing commitment to high quality leisure provision in Southwell.

“Finally, our MPs letter is frankly insulting to the council, our leisure operator and to the volunteers who give their time freely to support the running of the centre. If he’d like to come and visit, he can see for himself what’s involved in maintaining a 60- year-old building and put his energy into doing something constructive to help raise money for more improvements to the centre, rather than firing off a misleading letter to score cheap political points.”

The allocation of an additional £161,800 to reach the £740,000 total fund for maintenance work at the centre was approved by cabinet members at the October 31 meeting.

It is set to fund fire compartmentation upgrades in walls and ceilings, repairs to existing damaged fire doors, replacement of non-compliant internal glazing, upgrades to emergency lighting, installation of smoke vent systems and construction of a disabled refuge with fire doors, roof repairs to the main entrance atrium glass, external redecoration and cladding repairs, repairs to the fitness suite floor, repairs to final exit doors and electrical upgrade works.

The council acknowledged some closures may need to take place during these works, during which time customers would be transferred to other Active 4 Today sites or have their payments paused.

Mr Carolan added: “In response to Mr Jenrick’s recent open letter shared on social media, I can re-assure Southwell residents that Southwell Leisure Centre is not closed. Currently the main pool is temporarily closed while we undertake some more detailed safety inspections of the main pool only. This follows a recent building review which revealed that essential repairs were required. The teaching pool and all other facilities at Southwell Leisure Centre remain open as normal.

“The main pool closed to the public on October 29 and is being maintained as normal during this period, meaning that it is being heated to a normal operating temperature and the chemical treatment is being kept at normal levels. In effect, during this period it is only the bathers that are missing. This allows us to ensure that the pool can operate safely before we can re-open to the public.

“Customer safety is of paramount importance to us, and we must look at the pressing and urgent repairs required. As we confirmed on our website, on social media and in emails to all our customers, we expect to be able to confirm a re-opening date within three weeks from today. Our original statement is on our website at www.active4today.co.uk/news.

“With regards to the recent funding through the Government’s Swimming Pool Support Fund, the district council’s application, which included Southwell Leisure Centre, was made on August 11 and, at this point, we didn’t know there were any urgent repairs required to the main pool, which only came to light following the building review. We are delighted to have received funding for the Dukeries Leisure Centre, Newark Sports and Fitness Centre and Southwell Leisure Centre and this money will help to offset the rising operational costs of leisure centres.

“Once again, I’d like to reiterate to our customers that it is only the main pool closed, all other facilities at Southwell Leisure Centre remain open including the teaching pool. The funding from the Government’s Swimming Pool Support Fund is great news and will be helpful to ensure leisure provision remains at the forefront of our delivery across Newark and Sherwood.”

Andy Freeman, chairman of the Active4Today Board, added: “I am extremely disappointed but unfortunately not surprised at Robert Jenrick’s misleading statements, particularly regarding the management of Southwell Leisure Centre which is frankly insulting.

“If Mr Jenrick was up to speed with what’s happening in his patch, he’d know that extensive repairs were required at Southwell Leisure Centre, something that some members of the previous Conservative administration had known about for a number of years. More importantly, the council and Active4Today are working together with the leisure centre trust to put things right.”

Mr Jenrick was approached for comment after the council’s response, and said: "I’m surprised councillor Peacock has reacted so defensively to scrutiny and accountability. The council's silence on the closure of the swimming pool is a matter of public record. The councillor in charge of this, councillor Crosby was asked directly and declined to confirm the future of the pool. Numerous members of the public and councillors from multiple political parties have said to me that they have been told privately the pool’s future is in doubt by officers. It is worrying that this isn’t being dealt with transparently. It's only through airing this issue that the council has been prompted to address it.

“I find it astonishing that the council is critical of the £40,000 government subsidy designated for covering energy and chemical costs, not structural maintenance. Unfortunately, if the council fails to provide a clear reopening date, this subsidy might have to be returned.

“My sole interest is in ensuring the best for the residents of Southwell. We need a clear commitment from the council regarding the reopening of the pool at Southwell Leisure Centre backed by a credible plan to deliver it — which is sadly lacking today.

“I am committed to working with councillors from all parties to swiftly resolve this issue for the benefit of our community and am already doing so with those from the Southwell area."

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