Cabinet confirms plans for new Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre

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News release: 17 August 2010

St Albans City and District Council’s Cabinet has reaffirmed its decision to proceed with the existing plans for the re-development of the Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre.

At a meeting on 10 August 2010, it confirmed its approval of the facility mix for the scheme which will provide a total of 647m² of water space and an overall capacity for 223 swimmers. This means a 30.5% increase in water space and a 35% increase on the current capacity for 165 swimmers. 

The proposed swimming pool provision is made up of: 
• 25m x 17m eight lane main pool (425m²) with a 50% movable floor
• 17m x 10m training/learner pool (170m²) with a 100% movable floor
• confidence water area for toddlers (52m²). 

2010-05-18 Westminster Lodge View Park Entrance Webpage

The facility mix for the new leisure centre which was originally approved by Cabinet on 6 October 2009, also includes a four court sports hall, climbing wall, youth gym, spa, 200 station fitness gym, exercise studios, poolside health suite, crèche, children’s soft play area and a café/bistro.

The meeting on 10 August was called following a recommendation by the Overview and Scrutiny (Public Services) Committee on 19 July to Cabinet that the designs for the main pool should include a further two lanes. In coming to its decision, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee considered arguments from the Pool Too Small Group in favour of a larger pool and a presentation in response by the Council’s Project Manager.

At the Cabinet meeting on 10 August, the Pool Too Small Group and the Council’s Project Manager made further presentations. However, having taken these into account, along with the estimated additional capital expenditure, future revenue costs and funding needs entailed with increasing the size of the pool, Cabinet decided that there was no compelling reason to change its previous decision of 6 October 2009 or to delay the project any further. Cabinet noted that the decision of 6 October 2009 was made following extensive public consultation which had shown clear support for its current plans.

However, Cabinet recognised that even with the re-development of the Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre there would be a predicted shortfall of water space in the District of 376.48 m² and has asked for the Head of Culture and Community Development and the Project Manager to produce a report in March 2011 setting out ways of providing additional space, including:
• a new pool site within the District
• opening up existing pool facilities further for community use, for example schools
• the funding of these proposals at a minimum capital/revenue cost to the Council.

Cabinet also requested that a draft operational plan be drawn up setting out how demand for the new Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre can be managed once it is opened, as it is anticipated that the pool will be popular.
 
Cllr Anthony Rowlands, Portfolio Holder for Sport and Leisure at St Albans City and District Council, said: “Cabinet unanimously endorsed the existing Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre scheme which will provide an array of modern sporting and leisure facilities, including a 25m x 17m eight lane main pool, learner pool and confidence water. We listened carefully to the Pool Too Small campaigners but their idea of a 25m long, ten lane pool would fly in the face of all the advice from experts that has been received by the Council. There is, after all, only one such pool currently in development in the rest of the country.
 
“Equally seriously, changing the plans would have landed residents with a bill of well in excess of a million pounds. Such a move would have also meant lengthy delays and running the risk of missing out on a highly competitive period for the construction industry which could reduce the bill for the Council. It would have been irresponsible to have altered direction in the way the campaign wanted. Now we must move ahead with a project which has strong public support and will deliver a vitally needed flag-ship leisure centre for the City and District.”
 
Cllr Robert Donald, Leader of St Albans City and District Council, added: “The provision of a new leisure centre at Westminster Lodge in 2012 together with a new leisure facility in London Colney is one of the Council’s key priorities for the next two years.

“When Westminster Lodge is redeveloped, it will offer a far broader range of sports and leisure facilities than now for a far greater number of residents across the whole District.

“The swimming pool is just one aspect of the new centre and while we would all like to have as big a pool as possible the proposals of the Pool Too Small Group to extend this to 10 lanes would have increased the capital and revenue costs by more than £1m which Council Tax payers would have to pay over many years to come. Their proposed size would also not have been recognised for swimming competitions and galas, whereas a 25m x eight lane pool is.

“We have asked Council officers to report to Cabinet further on two issues however that the group raised. Firstly, the projected water shortfall in the District. Possible options for this include the provision of a new pool in the District and increasing the opening hours of the school pools for community use. Secondly, the management of the new Westminster Lodge pool when it first opens and its popularity may lead to occasional overcrowding.

“The Pool Too Small Group has had its say and Cabinet has listened. We have concluded however that their proposals would mean Council Tax payers having to pay more over many years, the pool would actually be the wrong size and would inevitably lead to further delays and more costs.

“It’s time now to stop talking and get on with it. I remain convinced that when it is built it will provide a fit for purpose twenty-first century flagship leisure centre for our District we can all be proud of and which residents do not have to pay more and more to maintain every year.”

The construction contract for the re-development of Westminster Lodge is currently out to tender and work is expected to start on site in early January 2011. The current leisure centre will remain open until the new leisure facility is ready in 2012.

Member contact:
Cllr Anthony Rowlands, Portfolio Holder for Sport and Leisure at St Albans City and District Council
Tel: 01727 839132
Mob: 07761 232064

Contact for the press:
Amanda Wilkinson, Communication Officer
St Albans City and District Council
Tel: 01727 819317
E-mail: amanda.wilkinson@stalbans.gov.uk
www.stalbans.gov.uk

Notes:
1. At its meeting on 10 August 2010, Cabinet agreed the following:

(i) That Cabinet thanks the Pool Too Small Campaign Group and the Civic Society for their presentation outlining their concerns about the Council’s previously agreed redevelopment proposals for the Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre and notes the recommendations of the Overview and Scrutiny (Public Services) (O&S) Committee meeting of 19/07/10 that the size of the proposed swimming pool be increased from eight to ten lanes.

(ii) Cabinet considers however that in the light of the Project Manager’s response to the arguments presented by the Pool Too Small Group and the recommendations of the O&S Committee, and the estimated additional capital and future revenue costs and funding needs involved, there are no compelling reasons to merit changing the Cabinet’s previous decision or delay any further.

(iii) Cabinet accordingly reaffirms its decision of 6 October 2009 following the results of extensive public consultation in 2009 which showed clear support for Option 2 as set out in the decision for Item 3 paragraphs (i) – (iv) of the minutes of that Cabinet meeting.

(iv) Cabinet confirms its approval of the facility mix for the new Westminster Lodge Leisure centre to include a total of 647m2 of water space made up of a 25 x 17m (8 lane main pool), 17m x 10m training/ learner pool and confidence water, as outlined in paragraph 4.1.9 of the Cabinet Report and that Overview and Scrutiny (Public Services) Committee be informed of Cabinet’s response.

(v) Regarding the meeting of the shortfall of water space predicted (376.48m2) Cabinet requests that the Head of Culture and Community Development and the Project Manager report to Cabinet in March 2011 on ways of providing additional water space including:

 a) new pool site within the District
 b) opening up existing pool facilities further for community use eg in schools
 c) the funding of these proposals at minimum capital/revenue cost to the Council.

(vi) Cabinet recognises that the expected popularity of the new pool facilities immediately following their opening may result in occasional periods of overcrowding irrespective of the pool’s size. Cabinet therefore requests that the Head of Culture and Community Development and the Project Manager in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Sport and Leisure produce a draft operational plan to discuss with the leisure centre operator when appointed for the management of these overcrowded periods. This draft plan should also be reported to Cabinet in March 2011.

2. Planning permission for the new Westminster Lodge Leisure Centre was granted by the Council in April 2010. The plans include provision for a 25m x 8 lane main pool and a 17x10m training pool both with moveable floors, a confidence water pool and improved community facilities such as a four court sports hall, climbing wall, youth gym, spa, 200 station fitness gym, exercise studios, poolside health suite, crèche, children’s soft play area and a café/bistro. More information is available about the planning application on the Council's website.

3. More information about the role of the Overview and Scrutiny (Public Services) Committee is available on the Council’s website. At its meeting on 19 July 2010, the Committee recommended to Cabinet that “the predictable shortfall of water provision at Westminster Lodge be partly met by increasing the size of the pool from the proposed eight lanes to 10 lanes”.