Olympic pool metres too far?

On the 14th December I reported on Olympic swimming hopes for one of UK's sporting Jewels, following the announcement that the council intends to build a 50m pool in a new complex adjacent to the National Indoor Arena.

The announcement in the Birmingham Post and BBC follow details revealed from a report which went to Birmingham City Council cabinet on the 15th December, Sports Facilities Strategy for the City - Phase 1 Swimming Pool Provision, with the purpose: To advise Cabinet on the latest position on Phase 1 of a Sports Facilities Strategy and to approval commissioning further design work and feasibility studies.

The report looks at the immediate needs for swimming provision and accomodating provision to address changes in Birmingham's population by 2021. The report suggested approving development costs up to £2.6m on a first tranche of pool projects, comprising a 50 metre pool, the replacement of Harborne Pool and the refurbishment of Stechford Cascades, in order to progress the projects to a level sufficiently advanced to submit detailed planning applications.

Existing swimming facilities as outlined in the report are shown below together with financial efficiency ratings for current council pools. There are a total of 32 pools in the City, of which 17 have full public access, 7 are education site based (schools, colleges, universities), and 6 are private facilities such as Bannatynes and Virgin Active.

The report also contains further details on the proposed 50 metre pool.

Site Location
Following an evaluation the preferred site is the land adjacent to Nelson Primary School behind the NIA. The main factors in favour, were that there were no acquisition costs as it is in the City’s ownership and there is sufficient space to offer the core facilities i.e. a 50 metre pool and diving tank, plus additional income generating facilities which contribute to the overall Business Model. It has a good strategic fit in terms meeting the gap in swimming pool provision within the city centre. It is also in close proximity to other strategic facilities i.e. the NIA, ICC, the new library and the redevelopment of Broad Street. Consultation with the NIA management team has identified that there is car parking capacity within the NIA multi-storey facility, which could service the new pool complex. A full transport plan will need to model this capacity as well as adapting public transport and pedestrian routes to the site.

Facility Mix
The proposed facility mix is a 50 metre, 10 lane pool with 1,000 seating capacity. It would have a movable boom to divide the pool into 2 x 25 metre pools – one with a moveable floor designed to provide maximum flexibility for both community e.g. lessons and competitive uses e.g. club training.
A separate 25 metre x 21 metre diving facility, suitable to host international competitive events e.g. the Commonwealth Games and provide a training venue for elite athletes.
A separate leisure pool of regional significance capable of holding 600 people per hour, with state of the art flumes and water activities creating a high profile tourist destination and wider aquatics offer.
Health and fitness facilities would have an estimated 150 stations including joggers, rowers and weight based machines. A dance studio and Dojo.
A 12 court sports hall to provide a valuable training and competition space with 2,000 seating capacity as well as extensive community use. This would also provide the potential replacement of facilities at Ladywood Arts and Leisure Centre, subject to the redevelopment of the Icknield Port Loop.

In addition to the indoor dry sports facilities the wider sports offer would be complemented by an external 5-a-side centre operating with approximately 9 football/rugby pitches, accommodating 5-a-side games. This again supports the business model as this facility operates on a commercial basis. A first class climbing wall could also be included in the facility to maximise the available space for physical activity. In addition to the sporting/leisure offer, ancillary facilities would be required to including reception, lobby, changing, cafeteria, storage and circulation space as part of the overall floor dimensions.

The 50 metre pool supports the council plans to deal with the lack of water space to deal with it's population. The report suggests the council bring it's provision upto the national average 13.1 m2, a task that would require the equivalent of building approximately 8 pools of 25 metres x 6-lane size with learner pool. To deal with existing lack of facilities across the city and the number of ageing pools and old facilities a modelling scenario is suggested.

a. - City Centre 50 m pool and diving pool
b. - Pools which are likely to stay and be refurbished due to their current condition. These might include: Wyndley , Cocks Moors Woods , Fox Hollies , Kingstanding , Northfield , Small Heath , Handsworth , Erdington , Stechford
c. - New pools, possibly in: Selly Oak area , Longbridge/Northfield , Eastern Corridor/Hodge Hill area (south of motorway) , Moseley/Sparkhill area
d. - New pools likely to be agreed : Harborne area , City Centre (50m pool).

The announcement of details from the report have revealed problems with the plans for the Olympic pool with the Birmingham Post suggesting Birmingham may lose leisure facilities to pay for Olympic swimming pool. The proposals have raised eyebrows with questions over funding the proposal and delivering it on time with an official admitting that older venues might have to close to reduce the funding gap.

Mike Whitby, leader of Birmingham City Council has ordered the plans back to the drawing board after the Cabinet meeting raised concerns on the funding of the pool; Birmingham to renegotiate cost of Olympic swimming pool. The current credit crunch and recession hit builders suggest one option which is to renegotiate the £60 million cost of the pool. Renegotiating the cost of building the pool however would not solve the problem of a predicted £400,000 annual loss for the pool which was revealed in the cabinet report.


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