Saturday, 22 October 2011

Time to Save Houghton Regis Leisure Centre Swimming Pool?

Central Bedfordshire Council withdrew financial support for Houghton Regis Leisure Centre Swimming Pool at the start of September.
This week will see leaflets dropping through Houghton Regis letter boxes asking residents to "vote" either to reopen the swimming pool at Houghton Regis Town Council's expense, or close it; and to "vote" to contribute more in local Council Tax to have it open from 1st April 2012 to 31 March 2013, or not.

In this consultation some will say that they might as well pay extra tax to the Houghton Regis Town Council because the alternative for swimmers would be to pay even more to travel and park at another pool, the nearest for some being at Lewsey Farm, or in Dunstable. And it is a valid point - the closer you live to the present pool. Then again,  I've also heard that taking swimming lessons during school time is a real sap on teaching time, and even more of a sap on teaching time if travel is involved. And travelling involves costs that local schools King's Houghton, and Hillcrest have previously not had to incur.

Some will say that the pool isn't good enough to learn in. My own children, when babies, were lucky enough to have access to two wonderful learning pools in Hemel Hempstead. Not only was there a  shallow heated pool for parents and babies, but the heated learner pool also had a moveable floor to add to the water confidence building experience. The Houghton Regis pool was built in a different era and suffers from the criticism that the pool is too deep for learners, and at times has not been 'warm enough'.

Some are saying that it's best to mothball the pool for now,
"It's old and tired, and looks like a big bath."
"Let's wait for investment to arrive in a few years time, and come out of it with a better, superior, pool."
"the present pool isn't fit for families, and there's nowhere for a parent to take a break."

Others will have expectations of getting better facilities for extra taxes, but they won't be, if the consultation exercise says "yes" to paying more to keep it open.

Central Beds Council have argued that not many people use the pool, but others have questioned their ability to keep proper records of the number of people entering the leisure facilities,  pointing to poor management. But there are no plans to change the present management.

Some will say they are already contributing to CBC's council tax for leisure facilities in other towns, and ask why they should contribute again, to the Town Council's coffers?

Some will ask why they should contribute to keep Houghton's pool open when other people from Dunstable, Toddington and Luton etc. will be able to come to Houghton Regis' facility and NOT have to contribute an extra tax.

Some will point to the government's intention to hold down council tax next year to 0% for Central Beds Council. But with that announcement we have to remind ourselves that the that will mean more service cuts. Doubtless, CBC will argue that a few extra pounds to the town council will be easily affordable. In return, we'll worry about more crime in our area and falling standards of care. In the next few months we'll be hearing news of those cuts. And the town council might well have to be considering propping up those cut services. These could include street lighting, cctv, pot-holes, salt for the roads, community care - all valid expenditures for the town council that if supported will help to protect our community against crime and dropping infrastructure standards. So, on top of this potential financing being required, should we really be looking to burden the community with increasing our taxes again, earmarked simply to pay for a swimming pool that hardly meets today's needs?

We are a conscientious council, and we are aware that many families in our deprived communities are struggling to make ends meet. So, we need people to bear all these thoughts in mind when they decide which way to go when they feedback their input to the Houghton Regis Town Council consultation.

All things are possible, and as a council tax payer, I'm happy to go with the flow. I hope people will consider the greater good, and I look forward to finding out what the overall verdict is when we meet at our next full council meeting.
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