A £1million bid for Leith Waterworld from a private soft play firm will be considered by councillors at next week’s full council meeting.
If the council decides to take the money, the popular leisure pool may never re-open as a community run pool – even though 6500 people signed a petition calling on the council not to close it in the first place.
After a lengthy campaign councillors had previously agreed in January to work with Splashback campaigners to re-open the pool, provided that a satisfactory business case could be put together.
To assist in this process the council agreed to allocate £100,000 to the Splashback campaign in order to allow them to develop a business plan that would see Leith Waterworld run by a community owned company – and committed to providing an ongoing subsidy for three years.
At the time, the only bid on the table was a £1 bid from Splashback and the group were given until the end of the year to come up with detailed business case.
The council has now revealed that since then it has received two bids for the site. One has been rejected by officials, but the one councillors will consider is a £1million bid for the Leith Waterworld site from A G Property Group – a firm that operates soft play facilities like Glasgow Wonder World.
The bid was received around six weeks ago and is time limited. If the council accepts the A G Property bid there will be no leisure pool on the site. Instead, they will create a large softplay facility. The diagram below, which outlines what the firm would do with the Leith Waterworld site is taken from the council report.
Despite the fact that the council has already formalised a “Heads of Terms agreement,” with A G Property a source close to the community bid said that the Splashback team were kept in the dark about the details of the bid until very recently.
In a statement released by Splashback, a spokesperson for the campaign group said: “We were delighted when, on 31 January this year, the city’s Councillors overwhelmingly voted to work with Splashback and to establish a working group to develop the business plan for a community-run Leith Waterworld.
“This reflected the administration’s desire to work cooperatively with the citizens of Edinburgh, as set out in the Capital Coalition agreement. Over the last three and a half months, we have worked with Councillors and officials in good faith, and while there remains much still to do, we have made significant progress, including developing a fundraising plan and applying for charitable status.”
“Splashback understands that this new bid leaves Councillors with a decision to make at next week’s Full Council meeting – whether to continue working with us to achieve a revitalised LWW, or to pursue the new bid.
“However, we have faith in the letter and the spirit of the amendment carried on 31 January, and believe that the conviction displayed by Councillors on that day will guide their decision. We look forward to continuing to work with the Council to deliver on the commitments they made in January.”
Commenting on the new bid, Councillor Richard Lewis, the city’s Culture and Sport Convener, said: “Over the last few months officials and elected members have been working closely with Splashback to progress the feasibility phase of their community bid to run Leith Waterworld. I’d like to thank Splashback for their continued commitment to developing their community bid.
“The council had agreed in January to re-market the property whilst we were supporting the feasibility phase of Splashback’s bid and in the intervening months we received two new unsolicited notes of interest in purchasing Leith Waterworld, one of which is being taken to council for consideration.”
The news has not been received well with some locals on Twitter warning councillors that it would be “treachery” if the new bid was accepted, before Splashback had had a chance to complete their work.
However, Council Leader Andrew Burns was at pains to point at that no decision will be taken until the full council meeting.
Other locals have done some digging and noticed that the Glasgow Wonder World Facebook page carries a number of complaints about the price of entry and the food – and question whether another commercial soft play facility run along these lines is really needed in Leith.
Another local, Alex Bottrill points out that there is the former B&Q shop on Easter Road which could accommodate this, without “wasting” the swimming pool infrastructure.
As part of the proposed deal to sell Leith Waterworld to A G Property the council also proposes to sell the remaining interest it has in the car park outside to Tesco. It is not known whether Tesco would start to charge for parking as a result of this deal, or what impact this would have on Leith Walk traders nearby.
If you feel strongly that the council should continue to support the Splashback bid, it would do no harm to help local councillors make up their minds by writing to them.
What they said in January:
Cllr Gordon Munro: “We’ve got the chance to do something special here. The business case from Splashback gives us a chance to do something special for Leith Waterworld… and for the city as a whole as well.”
Cllr Adam McVey: “We need to consider, long-term the settled subsidy we’re going to be looking at, and the similar subsidies that we give to third sector organisations already in the city. If you look at the amount of money that we give to other third sector organisations in the city… Leith Waterworld becomes a steal at twice the price. If we can do it then we should do it for the long term benefit of not only Leith, but Edinburgh as well.”
Cllr Richard-Lewis: “Leith Waterworld is a £14m bespoke leisure facility, which, once bulldozed, will not easily be replaced…. Do we here, sitting here as a councillors today not owe it to the people of Edinburgh to do everything we can to try to preserve the unique facility that is Leith Waterworld?”
Cllr Maggie Chapman: “The value of Leith Waterworld, just to Leith itself, has been estimated at half a million pounds, a further quarter of a million for the city as a whole, and another half million for Scotland. So financially, there’s a huge possibility here, and yes it’s a possibility that we can turn into a reality.”
You can find full details of the new bid and a progress report from Splashback on the council website.
This post was updated on 26/5/2013 in order to take account of new information released in council reports and feeback from social media.