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


Memorandum submitted by Mr Keith Richards


  I hope that you will be able to put this e-mail to the Select Committee, as a representation on behalf of the International Pool Action Group in Leeds.

  I am a Chartered Surveyor and Project Manager working in the Commercial Sector. I don't work for Developers or any of the local property Companies; my field is in Management of commercial refurbishment and smallish new build projects, which gives me a fairly wide overview of the subject in hand. I don't have a professional interest in the International Pool site or the South Leeds Stadium site—my interest is as a concerned resident of Leeds.


  Leeds City Council propose to build a new swimming facility at South Leeds Stadium, located two miles outside the city centre. They have sought lottery funding, and have in principle commitment from Sport England, but as a condition of achieving matching funding they must sell the site of the existing Leeds International Pool (LIP), which is located in the centre of the City. There is a considerable opposition to the Council's plans in this regard, because the existing pool is a valuable community asset which the city can ill afford to lose. The International Pool Action Group, which consists of people with an interest in enhancing, rather than destroying, civic amenities, wants the council to look again at the position and come up with a proposal that will provide a new pool for elite swimmers (if indeed this is appropriate) and also to keep the existing facility in the City Centre. We do not necessarily believe that the existing building should be kept, we do feel that the City needs a centrally located swimming pool and leisure facility, as it has had for the last 150 years. We believe the Council and Sport England could adopt a strategy that would achieve this aim, and release the capital value of the LIP site. This will be described in more detail later—Sale & Leaseback.

COUNCIL'S DUTYA leisure facility like LIP is as much a part of the city's heart beat as its commercial and cultural facilities. The crux of my groups argument with the City Council is that the Local Authorities duty lies not just with the sporting elite, ie the beneficiaries of a new pool out at South Leeds Stadium. The council has perhaps an over-riding duty to ordinary citizens, and it will be failing in this duty if it takes away the centrally located LIP which is used by large numbers of people at all hours of the day, both for sports and leisure users. Could the Council not come up with an imaginative way to ensure that we keep such a valuable part of the infrastructure? Some possibilities are outlined below. It is apparent that the Council has neglected the existing centre for many years, and it is unfortunate that its current poor condition can be used as an argument justifying its relocation. Is it true to say that the Council is providing `added sporting value' in creating a new pool at South Leeds? The City would still have just one 50m pool, albeit in a far less accessible location, but would suffer the loss of gym and other facilities. It cannot be reasoned that the move to South Leeds is beneficial to anyone at all, except those who happen to live in South Leeds; and the relocation will be detrimental to the Council's own priority social groups.


  Currently in training at LIP are a European swimming champion and World record holder, as well as numerous elite triathletes. In addition, there are six swimming and diving clubs. The facility is also used by the genral public for swimming, aerobics, gym work, running, cycling etc and there is Heart Watch, which is a group for people who have undergone heart surgery or are otherwise heart patients, who use the pool for monitored, structured exercise programmes. In all, the `general public' are the majority of users. Regular users of the Pool, serious sportsmen, who have expressed the view that South Leeds is just not a feasable option for them, they will be very much inconvenienced by the proposal, to the extent that their training will be detrimetally affected. One such is an International Triathlete, who is at the Pool at least three mornings a week; another was recently British Biathalon champion. So, in their efforts to satisfy one elite group, the Council alienate another.


  The Council have not consulted the general public, and few people in Leeds are aware of all the implications of the Council's proposals. However, amongst those groups who are interested, ie the users of leisure facilities, there is very considerable opposition to the Council's plans. A recent survey conducted in the vicinity of LIP by a member of the International Pool Action Group, Dr John Dickinson, obtained over 1,200 signatures in a single day against the loss of LIP. The only groups the Council have conducted are those in the swimming clubs. These groups clearly have a vested interest, although a large number of them have expressed concern over the new locations, which is definitely not conducive to pre-work or pre-school exercise.


  The LIP's catchment area contains the Leeds City Centres main business district and many people employed in the city centre use the pool at lunchtime, first thing in the morning or immediately after work. The location is extremely convenient for this group of users and the City Councils plans do not cater for these needs in any way, shape or form. Neither does it cater for the other main group of users/potential users, the local populace, who are in the main, low income groups, ethnic minorities etc. This latter group are the least likely to travel to an out of town location. The City Council expect that there will be an additional 10,000 people living in the city centre within the next three years, in newly developed apartments and the like. They do not appear to consider it appropriate to keep an existing leisure facility that would doubtless be used and valued by this population, especially if the facility was refurbished (or indeed replaced). The Council propose that most of these people will be affluent enough to demand expensive private leisure facilities? The Council's remit is to look after priority groups as well as incoming `yuppie' high earners and it is very sad indeed to see the officers of a Labour Council, pursuing what appears to be a policy of social exclusion. If the Council's plans go ahead, there will not be a publicly run leisure facility within two miles of the city centre. This reduced access will mean an end to leisure for many, many people, which is apparently against the government's policy of providing opportunity for easily accessible and convenient, health promoting exercise.


  The Council's plans are financially driven, to the extent that sale of LIP is a convenient way of disposing of a high running cost facility. The Council have not seriously considered the options of refurbishment the existing building (costing on their figures a maximum of £5m) or of introducing enhancements and capitalising on its potential as a leisure venue similar perhaps to the Dome at Doncaster. It does appear to the casual observer that the Council want to see the LIP site developed for commercial users, as part of their drive to boost the city's image as a `business capital' and that this is their over-riding objective. However, LIP is a public asset and financial considerations should not be the only deciding factor. Public service has to come into play; or have we degenerated to the point where this concept has no meaning anymore? Where does this leave libraries, museums, art galleries and theatres? They too, are publicly run, with financial limitations and they also occupy valuable sites. The Council's proposals are based on an estimated value of the LIP site of £6m. This appears rather cautious, if not pessimistic. It is one of the highest value sites in the city, especially given the probability of a highly intensive mixed commercial use in future. With suitable development briefing and fair economic conditions, sale revenue least commission a detailed and independent valuation of the site, based on an assumption that a future development will retain a publicly run leisure use.


  It is known that the Council will close the facility at Beeston if the current proposal goes ahead. There is also a plan to close Holt Park Leisure Centre in the near future, to sell the site on for development, and Guiseley Leisure Centre is also `at risk'. The Council's offers have stated publicly that they consider that the private sector will fill the gap left by the closure of Council facilities. This is completely unacceptable, given the high cost of membership to such establishments, and the `exclusive' nature of them.


  LIP is in an ideal location to serve the majority of Leeds' population, and can be readily reached by public or private transport or any other means from all parts of the City. The new facility will not share such ready accessibility and neither is it in such a safe, secure part of town. Bus transport will be at least a two-bus trip, (one into town and one out to south Leeds), cycle access will be exceedingly difficult, if not dangerous and pedestrian access virtually impossible. Those who are reliant on public transport will not relish the hassle involved in going for a swim, on the grounds of expense, inconvenience and time. It would appear that the only practical way to reach the new centre would be by car; how does this sit with Council and Government policies on traffic reduction or control? The Council can't ignore the simple fact that a journey from, say, Quarry Hill to South Leeds is likely to take over an hour each way, given good traffic conditions, and this will not improve as roads get busier. The priority social groups are likely to be the first to suffer from this and it can be anticipated that few from central or northern portions of the city will use the new centre.


  The Council can ensure that a leisure use continues on the site if it has the will. It could achieve the objective of disposing of the site whilst achieving a new, state of the art facility, albeit reduced in size, with much reduced running costs. In the following scenario everyone wins. A Sale and Leaseback deal would effectively require the Council and the purchaser of the site to enter into a forward agreement which would require the Purchaser to re-develop the site, probably for offices, hotel or mixed commercial use. They would also be required to commit to constructing a new leisure facility, which would then be leased back to the Council for a rental payment each year. The Council would then run the facility as a public, community facility and they would benefit from hugely reduced running costs. The income from such a deal would enable the Council to fund construction of the new facility in South Leeds with help from Sport England. It would remove the main source of the Council's problem: ie the huge expense of running and maintaining the existing LIP building. I envisage an innovative, yet scaled down scheme that provides the city with a good quality, central leisure facility amongst a mix of commercial and residential land uses. It might possibly be the basement and first couple of floors of a high rise office or hotel. Perhaps it could incorporate the latest technology such as solar energy and heat exchange/recovery—imagine having a complex that is heated largely by the discharged cooling loads of offices in the same and adjacent buildings, for example. The positive PR and marketing benefits to the Council would be immense, not only achieving a dual aim in terms of sports provision but doing so in a "Public/Private Partnership". I have spoken to several others about the Council's proposal including colleagues who are experts in Valuation and Development Consultancy. You might be interested to know that these people see the views I express above as perfectly valid and reasonable propositions from a Property Industry perspective.


  The International Pool Action Group consider that the Council's plans are ill conceived, based on poor quality information and without adequate consultation with local people. We consider that the plans are detrimental to the interests of local people of all social groups and they should not be supported with public funding. The city requires a much more complete strategy, that does not rely on public sector provision of facilities and which meets the needs of all sectors of the Community.

17 December 2001

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