Council officers have recommended this week that a community bid to re-open Leith Waterworld should be rejected and that the site should be sold to a private bidder. But it is the city’s elected councillors who will ultimately decide the fate of Leith Waterworld. They will consider whether to support the Splashback bid at a debate on Thursday.
In advance of the debate, Splashback campaigners fighting to re-open the pool have asked local people and organisations to send letters of support to their councillors. Here is ours.
Dear Edinburgh Councillors,
On behalf of the Greener Leith Board I am writing to express our support in the strongest of terms for the Splash Back bid to run a Community-led Leith Waterworld.
Leith Waterworld has provided a unique sports and leisure facility for all ages that also delivered significant benefit to the local economy by bringing much-needed footfall to Leith Walk.
Economic arguments supporting closure put forward by council officers and their consultants have never taken into account the wider benefits of the facility to the local area.
Anecdotal evidence we have received from local traders suggests that many local shops and cafes used to derive a notable upturn in takings on days when the pool was open. It is therefore extremely likely that closure of the facility has had a significant negative impact on the area around the Foot of the Walk – an area where there are already a high number of vacant properties and shop units.
Conversely, closure hinders local regeneration efforts.
The Splashback business case suggests that the pool can be re-opened to provide a valuable visitor attraction in the area whilst reducing the level of subsidy required to operate it to below the Scottish average for a swimming pool.
Given this it remains unclear how the original justification for closure can be maintained.
Continued attempts to link the closure of Leith Waterworld with the renovation of the Royal Commonwealth Pool (RCP) are regrettable. The two facilities are not comparable in any sense. There is currently no other bid on the table for the Leith Waterworld site, and so in any case the suggestion that a £1 – £1.5million “funding gap” in the construction of the RCP could be closed by selling the Leith Waterworld site to a non-existent private buyer seems spurious to say the least – particularly in the current economic climate.
We note that the council consultants, GVA recommend a ‘cooling off’ period of at least three months before a further attempt is made to sell the LWW site. Given that no bids were received during the last attempt at sale, the prevailing economic conditions in the city, and the continued prospect of a community bid for the site potentially detering other private investors – cooling off period or not – no other buyer for the site is likely to come forwards soon.
Even if the council does manage to offload the site to a private developer in several years time, there is no guarantee that any eventual sale will generate the capital receipt suggested in the council report.
It is therefore likely that councillors rejecting the Splashback bid will simply condemn the site to lie vacant for the foreseable future. This will cost the council many thousands of pounds in security and maintenance and we note that the disused building has already become a focus for anti-social behaviour in the neighbourhood.
Wider costs associated with anti-social behaviour will be incurred by other local property owners and public services. Instead of this waste of tax payer cash, surely it would be better to back the community bid for the pool and use tax payers money constructively to provide the community with a leisure facility and support the wider economic vitality of the area?
Healthy Living – Local Leisure Facilities
According to the CEC Open Space Audit 2009, Leith, one of the most densely populated areas in Edinburgh, comes at the very bottom of the neighbourhood partnership areas with only 1.31 hectares of significant open space per 1000 people.
As far as sports and leisure facilities in Leith are concerned, the audit is equally downbeat; one dedicated playing field, no tennis courts, a couple of bowling greens, no dedicated football pitches. As we all know Leith Links, the city’s poorest quality Premier Park, has to double up to provide some of these facilities.
Given that one of the key priorities identified in the Leith Local Community Plan 2011-2014 is: “To provide encouragement and opportunities for people to adopt healthier and more active lifestyles,” it seems that the proposal to sell the site to a commercial developer goes completely against this objective.
Given the relative lack of facilities that promote physical activity in Leith the Community Bid for Waterworld should be embraced as a bold, innovative proposal by the local residents who are determined to retain a much-loved facility that they don’t want to do away with.
Sadly, numerous health indicators show that Leithers suffer from worse health than the Edinburgh average. Now that many Leithers report swimming less frequently after the closure of Leith Waterworld, it is clear that the closure will have done nothing to challenge the very real health inequalities that exist in the city.
Thousands of people, in Leith, and indeed all over the city, have signed petitions, and backed the Save Leith Waterworld campaign. The project is not simply the hobby horse of a vocal special interest group.
We note that there is also very strong support for a community-led Waterworld by local people as is evidenced by their willingness to pay a higher entrance fee (CBfLW: 74% out of 800 respondents, page 23).
Greener Leith is strongly in favour of the proposal set out in the Splashback business plan and believes that their propsoals for improved facilities makes economic sense and are worthy of taxpayer investment. We would like to see the reinstatement of an improved Leith Waterworld as a community asset and believe that the Splashback team has the expertise and experience to make this project a success.
We urge the council to back the Splashback proposals and pro-actively work in partnership with local volunteers to help them realise their aspirations for a successful community managed pool.
The alternative, the permanent closure of Leith Waterworld and its subsequent sale to private investors could in our view have a negative impact on the neighbourhood. A neighbourhood which has yet to recover from the property crash and the disasterous economic effects of the botched tram works
We we wish the Splashback team well with this bid and urge all City of Edinburgh Councillors to ensure that it will have a positive outcome.
Charlotte Encombe Chair,
You can send a letter of support to your councillors easily using the online service www.writetothem.com