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Campaigners renew calls for historic Reading pool to be reopened

Arthur Hill Swimming Pool, Reading

Campaigners have renewed calls for a historic pool to be re-opened after the council confirmed leisure provider Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) had asked for a ‘significant’ bailout.

Plans agreed in January to spend £43 million on two new pools and other leisure facilities are uncertain due to the coronavirus pandemic which has forced leisure centres such as the Rivermead Centre to close indefinitely.

GLL currently runs leisure centres in Reading and has a contract until December 2022, but the council agreed in January this year to sign a new contract with GLL to build new pools in Rivermead and Palmer Park.

This was supposed to be signed by May but this has not happened due to Covid-19 and may now not happen at all.

Councillor Graeme Hoskin, responding to a question from Green opposition councillor Rob White, said the council has been “rightly” focused on responding to the coronavirus emergency.

But he added: “It is clear that the current pandemic creates a huge amount ofuncertainty over what the future form of indoor sport might take.

“Further scientific evidence in terms of the transmission of the virus as well as when or whether a vaccine is produced as well as its effectiveness will also determine the future of indoor sport and leisure.

“The impact of centre closures on the leisure industry has been well documented, with many leisure operators facing financial challenges.

“As a result of the leisure centres being forced to close in response to covid-19, GLL have approached the council requesting financial support.

“The council is continuing to work closely with GLL to understand the implications of covid-19 on leisure centres and is being supported by the Local Government Association and Sport England in discussions.”

Cllr White said Green councillors “remain concerned about the “outsourcing” of leisure and the council shoving a car park on Palmer Park” and asked for more details on the potential bailout.

Cllr Hoskin responded: “Due to commercial sensitivity I am not able to say the amount requested but it would be significant.

“No decision has been taken by the council and any decision would come back via  public meeting and a transparent democratic process.”

The council’s existing contract with GLL for the operation of Rivermead leisure centre runs until December 31, 2022.

The  £43 million leisure contract awarded to GLL in January to design, build and operate Reading’s leisure service, includes building two new swimming pools in Rivermead and Palmer Park.

A 25m six-lane pool is planned at Palmer Park and was previously expected to be ready by early 2022, to replace the closed Arthur Hill swimming pool.

The new Rivermead pool, replacing the current one, was due to be completed by summer 2022.

Both these plans are now uncertain.

Reading’s Arthur Hill campaigners, who have called on the council to bring back the historic swimming pool since it closed in December 2016, have renewed calls for the council to abandon plans to “privatise” sport and leisure and instead bring back the Kings Road pool.

Peter Burt of the Arthur Hill Campaign has questioned why the : “Now is not the time for RBC to be racing ahead to sign an expensive high-risk 25-year leisure contract – especially if it will commit the council to significant new spending over and above what has already been agreed.

“The coronavirus has wrecked the economy and the priority for the council should be to use its money to help local businesses and entrepreneurs get back on their feet, and work with them to provide a new type of leisure service in the short term.

“Sadly, there is unlikely to be any money for new swimming pools in the near future so the council must work with the local community to refurbish and reopen Arthur Hill swimming pool – an existing facility which is basically in sound condition – as a more realistic and cost effective option than building a new pool in east Reading.”

By Tevye Markson, Local Democracy Reporting Service

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