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

Annex 2

Letter, 28 February 2001, from the General Secretary of the University of Hertfordshire to Ms Melanie Johnson MP


  As you know, I met with Derek Casey of Sport England on 2 January, having previously met with David Sparkes, Chief Executive of the ASA on 8 November last year. When I left the meeting with Derek Casey, the feedback received was very positive, as it had been with David Sparkes. In summary, we were offering to develop a 50 metre pool with ASA and Sport England support on a marginal cost basis—we are committed to constructing a 25 metre pool. Given the need, and yet the rarity, of such facilities we were hopeful of a positive outcome. Interestingly, during both meetings both David Sparkes and Derek Casey estimated the marginal cost at around £2.5 million—a sum remarkably close to our QS estimates. Both appeared to be enthusiastic at the concept—the only real issue being the difficulty of placing funds inside a PFI deal. However, the fact that the University is retaining the freehold of the land, and will acquire the freehold of the buildings over the term, appeared to address these difficulties.

  I know that both parties discussed this matter at a meeting in mid-January and we have been seeking news of the outcome of these discussions since that time. I have now eventually received a letter from Derek Casey. I have not copied it to you—if you wish to have a copy I shall fax one through. In my view it is a letter designed to discourage further enquiries, offering an opportunity to apply for a maximum of £1 million, subject to several conditions. This is regrettable and unfortunate. I believe we had a real opportunity to provide facilities that would encourage excellence in a sport that badly needs the investment and provide a facility of some standing for the Welwyn Hatfield community, on a marginal cost basis. What is more, we could deliver the facility in 2003. However, it is clear from the letter that neither Sport England nor the ASA are supportive, despite earlier indications. Given the financial gearing that we were offering the two parties, there must be other strong reasons for dissuading us from progressing further. In this situation the effort required to try to turn this decision around and the remote probability of the success of such an exercise does not justify the management time involved in opportunity cost terms. We have other priorities to address. We will now commit to our 25 metre pool. I know that the swimming community will be disappointed at this outcome, but chasing lost causes is resource intensive and wasteful.

  On reflection, the decision was even more disappointing in the context of a press release received from Sport England last week concerning an award of £6 million to fund a £7 million 50 metre pool at Loughborough University. Loughborough, of course, has a special place in the sector in terms of sport, but nevertheless the timing of the announcement and the financial gearing of the investment inevitably increases the disappointment.

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