Council cuts could shut swimming pool that fosters Olympians


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The Independent Online

One of the country’s leading swimming clubs could be left homeless after a council announced plans to close a city centre pool to save money.

Amid mounting concerns over the Olympic sporting legacy for Britain’s next generation of athletes, Newcastle City Council said it was considering shutting the Grade Two listed City Pool by 2016.

The complex, which boasts a 25m and a 25 yard pool along with spectator gallery, is home to Newcastle Amateur Swimming Club which has produced three Olympians in recent years including double Commonwealth gold medal winner Chris Cook who swam at Athens and Beijing as well as Samantha Foggo and Susan Rolph.

Two of the club’s newer members, Georgia Darwent, 14 and Tom Howley, 16, have just been called up to the national squad and are hopeful of competing in Rio in 2016.

Swimming was one of the few areas in which Team GB failed to meet expectations in London. The sport now faces an almost certain cut to its funding from UK Sport.

Meanwhile, as highlighted by The Independent, campaign groups across the country are battling to save local pools and local authorities faced with making millions of pounds in cuts consider further closures.

Recent figures have shown that than 200,000 11-year-olds move to secondary school every year unable to reach the Government's target of being able to swim 25 metres. Nearly four out of ten of those unable to swim have never had a lesson despite it forming part of the national curriculum.

Critics have doubted the Government’s commitment to the sport. One of its first acts was to scrap free swimming for children and pensioners, to save £73m from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport's budget.

Mr Cook said City Pool, which has a £3m backlog of repairs, had been a hub of sporting excellence. “In the North East we have always been able to produce Olympians and this pool closure is putting that proud tradition in huge jeopardy,” he said.

“I went from being an average swimmer there to being good enough for the Olympics. I dread to think how many tens of thousands of young people went through there and learnt to swim. Its loss would be a really terrible,” he added.

Campaigners say that within a year only one pool will be directly run by Newcastle City Council which is faced with making £90m in savings.

The rest will be handed over to private or community operators.

However, Tony McKenna, head of leisure services at the council said the city had too many pools and that swimmers could use a nearby facility at the University of Northumbria.

“We have produced a series of proposals which, if implemented, will still provide our community with access to a wide range of leisure facilities.

He said: “In the case of the City Pool, the building requires such a lot of investment that it is difficult to envisage any organisation wanting to run it as a pool, and the City Council isn’t in a position to fund the capital work needed.

“Consequently we think the only viable option is to close the pool. This isn’t something that we want to do, but we need to do it to strike a balanced budget and continue to support swimming across the city.”