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PFI MAKES WAVES OVER BRUM POOLS

30-01-2010

Moseley Road Baths

Birmingham swimmers are being tantalised by the prospect of a new baths in Sparkhill and the re-opening of the gala pool at Moseley Road – but only if they accept that private funding is part of the solution. The proposal is already proving hugely controversial.

Cabinet Member for Leisure Sport and Culture Cllr Martin Mullaney has made a long-term commitment to both schemes, but with cost-cutting the order of the day across the local authority, there’s no guarantee when he’ll deliver.

Sparkhill, which closed over a year ago, is first in line, and around £11.5 million has been ring-fenced for the currently closed baths to be rebuilt – but now Mullaney is considering an ingenious proposal that would allow the two be developed at once.

He’s been approached by private contractors Pulse, who already run the Council’s gyms, and they’ve suggested they could build a new public baths to replace Sparkhill’s facilities at Moseley School (albeit in a freestanding building with a separate entrance).

This would cost the Council £3million, compared to the cost of between £10.9m - £13.1m if they did it themselves – freeing up the cash to restore historic Moseley Road (which is only partially open) to its former glory.

Mullaney revealed the proposal at a public meeting of Friends of Moseley Road Baths this week, but perhaps surprisingly it met with a universally hostile reception.

Helen Couthard, chair of Save Sparkhill Baths was at the meeting, and she said, "I thought Martin Mullaney was going to talk about a new build for Sparkhill, but no one knew it would be a PFI. It came as a big shock.

“At the moment, it’s very central. It’s in a cluster of public buildings in a park on the Straford Rd, and it acts as its own advert. At Moseley School it will be tucked away. Most people would prefer it to be in its current location.

“We also have reservations about PFI. It would set a precedent for Birmingham swimming pools. The staff are not treated as well, and even though there would be a contract, what would happen if it wasn’t fulfilled?”

Coulthard also pointed out that there would be no replacement for Sparkhill’s learner pool under Pulse’s proposal - and she insisted the Moseley Road group would also prefer to wait until cash is available directly from the Council for the restoration of their main pool, rather than have it opened with assistance from private investment.

Cllr Mullaney, however, said Pulse had made an “interesting offer” which he was “duty bound” to explore – not least because it would lead to the opening of two priority pools for the price of one.

He also pointed out that if Pulse built the baths, it would have a movable floor for synchronised swimming and water polo, and users would have access on the site to a large gym, dance studio, steam and sauna room and a sports hall.

The Council’s contribution to Pulse’s running costs would, he said, only exceed the local authority’s own anticipated revenue expenses (if they ran the facility by themselves) by £1.2 million over 30 years.

“These people go out knocking on doors to get people in,” he said.

“It’s in their interest to make the pool a place people want to go to.”

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