Sorry, folks: council set to pull the plug on Leith Waterworld

Posted on 29/05/2013 by

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The city council looks set to accept a £1m bid to convert Leith Waterworld into a soft play area, only months after agreeing to work with local campaigners to reopen the leisure pool as a community enterprise.

The decision will be formally made at tomorrow’s full council meeting, but speaking earlier today Culture and Leisure convener Councillor Richard Lewis said the “difficult decision” to support a proposal by Glasgow-based A&G Property Group to create a soft play and leisure centre at Waterworld had been taken.

Leith Waterworld closed in January last year, but supporters have campaigned to have the popular facility reopened ever since. Campaign group Splashback have worked tirelessly to get the facility reopened as a community asset – and felt they might be on the verge of success when councillors voted to support a feasibility study earlier this year – council officers have even been working alongside the Splashback group to firm up proposals.

However campaigners were concerned when news of the A&G bid emerged last week and Councillor Lewis’ comments today has confirmed their worst fears.

Councillor Lewis said: “This has been a very difficult decision and one that this Council does not take lightly. Firstly I’d like to thank Splashback for the work and commitment they have demonstrated in progressing the community bid. However this coalition feels that the potential purchaser will create a high quality leisure facility that will greatly benefit the community in Leith and the wider Edinburgh area.

“In recognition of Splashback’s commitment to creating affordable and accessible swimming opportunities for young people in the community, we’re proposing to commit £125,000 towards free swimming for primary aged children in Edinburgh.

“Ultimately this option ensures that the community in Leith has an accessible leisure facility for many years to come, that swimming opportunities are available and also that the Council gets best value for the taxpayers of Edinburgh.”

In a statement on their Facebook page, Splashback campaigners told friends and supporters: “Outraged to report to all our wonderful supporters that Coalition Motion for tomorrow’s Full Council meeting is to pull the plug on Waterworld and accept the other bid. We have, however, been working frantically behind the scenes in the last 24 hours to salvage SOMETHING for the city’s families.

“Consequently, the motion includes a commitment to ring-fence the £125,000 they promised us in the first year for a Council-led ‘programme of free swimming opportunities for primary aged children in Edinburgh, and other free swimming initiatives; and that the impact of these programmes will be monitored and assessed.’ SORRY FOLKS, that’s the best we could do …”

Commenting on the council’s decision to sell Leith Waterworld, Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: “This decision sends the worst possible message to communities trying to come together to protect services and improve facilities in their area. Despite all the warm words we hear on community empowerment and people power, when a developer comes along with a wad of cash, community efforts seem to count for little.”

She went on: “Families in Leith and right across the city made it very clear that they valued Waterworld as a unique leisure pool, and just five months after giving everyone hope that it would reopen, the Council have pulled the plug and campaigners will be feeling totally gutted.”

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