Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Northampton Borough Council

  Northampton Borough Council is pleased to be able to offer this submission to the Culture Media and Sport Committee.

  The town of Northampton has a population of close to 200,000 and the town is one of the fastest growing in the country. As a local authority, we are responsible for three swimming pools in the town. These swimming pools serve not only the town population but also the substantial population in the villages surrounding Northampton.

  Of the three pools, one is a fairly modern leisure pool with flume and water features but no standard pool with lanes. It is well used and caters for general leisure use. There is a mainly shallow 25 metre pool within our Lings Forum centre but this pool and the centre is over 25 years old and the pool has reached the end of its expected operating life. The pool also has no spectator accommodation.

  The main swimming pool in Northampton is the Mounts Baths which was built in 1936. This pool is a non-standard length (100 feet) and is housed in an historic building whose structure will not allow the conversion of the swimming pool into a modern standard 25 metre pool with spectator accommodation. There is also insufficient land on the site to extend the building in any way. Although some refurbishment has been undertaken and an exercise suite has been added, there is still refurbishment required that cannot be undertaken at present, including bringing the pool up to modern energy efficiency standards.

  Like many local authorities with pre-war swimming pools, Northampton Borough Council is therefore faced with the problem of how to develop its facilities when the main swimming pool is an historic building with structural constraints and on a site with insufficient land for redevelopment up to modern standards.

  Northampton Borough Council has supported Northampton Swimming Club, one of the largest in the country, by providing free time in the Mounts Baths for early morning training. The Council is aware however, that due to the community for swimming, it is not possible to offer the Club anywhere near sufficient access to facilities. In addition, while some exercise swimming in lanes is provided at the Mounts Baths, this is principally early morning swimming. Unfortunately, given the time available and the town centre location of the pool, many potential users do not have sufficient time to swim and then get to work or college.

  It is also disappointing that Northampton Borough Council is unable to host Northampton Swimming Club's Open Meet (one of the largest and most popular open meets in the swimming calendar) as there is no swimming pool in the town able to host such as event. The Council would like to be able to address this and one possible route is through a partnership that has been established with University College Northampton.

  The University College is keen to develop a major swimming facility in co-operation with Northampton Borough Council as well as local schools, local swimming clubs and the County Council. The outline plans would provide the town and county with top-level facilities. The link with Northampton Swimming Club with its professional coaching staff and the input and the support of the university sports scientists would help develop excellence in swimming and schools would benefit by having access to high quality facilities. Those facilities would help encourage the take-up of the sport, from learning to swim, to swimming for exercise and competitive swimming.

  The plan University College Northampton would like to implement is to raise sufficient capital to develop a 50 metre swimming pool. As well as use by students, this pool would be available to schools for teaching swimming, to the community for exercise (lane) swimming and to Northampton Swimming Club and other swimming clubs in the region for competitive training and competitions. The community use would be complementary to the Borough Council's provision and help the Borough meet the increasing demand for exercise (lane) swimming. In addition, the British Director of swimming has highlighted the need for swimmers to compete in 50 metre pools, so such a development would help meet national as well as local needs.

  The advantage of such a scheme is that it would be modelled on the system in place in the USA. Much of the development of excellence in swimming in the USA is undertaken through the universities with high quality facilities often linked with High Schools and local clubs. The US approach has the advantage that as well as high level training, swimmers gain educational qualifications that will benefit them when they cease competing.

  US universities often have substantial endowments that support the provision of coaches and sports science staff but unfortunately, the availability of that level endowments is rare in the UK. However, as noted above, University College Northampton would provide the sports science staff and facilities, with Northampton Swimming Club the coaching staff. This scheme would therefore enable the development of a US and Australian model of linking swimming and sporting excellence with education in a way that offers excellent value for money.

  This model provides a means of promoting excellence in swimming in the UK at the same time as supporting exercise swimming education in the community. Such a development would require that capital funding was directed towards universities to develop facilities but only if any proposals were supported by an agreement between a major swimming club that already employs a professional coaching staff and a university prepared to share its facilities and provide sports science support. It would also be important that proposals were supported by the local authority and that there was a link to Further Education Colleges to ensure educational opportunities were available to all, and not just those qualified for university courses.

  The partnership between Northampton Swimming Club, Northamptonshire County Council, Northampton Borough Council and University College Northampton (along with its Further Education Partners in the Northamptonshire Federation) provides an example of what could be achieved and will offer major value for money.

  University College Northampton will be launching a fund raising campaign early in 2002 and an endorsement from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee supporting the targeted investment of capital resources to build high quality swimming pools at universities and university colleges would greatly assist that campaign.

3 December 2001

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