At a meeting of Cabinet next week, my colleagues and I will consider a report recommending that the Council moves to the detailed design-stage of a new swimming pool complex on the Moorways site.
In December, when we first announced our plans to build a new swimming pool, I said that the scope of the project would be dictated by the outcome of the feasibility study and the business case. Since then, we have appointed an expert team with global experience of designing state of the art leisure facilities to advise us on what might be possible on the site.
They’ve now come back with their initial findings. What we have learnt from the outline designs is that we could build a basic eight lane, 50 metre swimming pool for around £23.4 million. However, a more comprehensive and sustainable plan, with a better mix of facilities, may cost £32.9 million.
This enhanced option could feature a ten lane, 50 metre world-class swimming pool, with a smaller training pool and leisure water, such as flumes or play equipment. A larger facility would also create opportunities for other commercial leisure activities.
The outline draft business-case supports this position showing that the swimming pool could be run without further subsidy from the Council, depending on the final designs and how it is operated.
Now that we have the initial feedback from our partners, we are ready to move to the detailed design-phase of the project. As part of the decision due to be taken at Cabinet, we will also be seeking approval for the demolition of the existing swimming pool building and sports hall, while continuing to develop the feasibility study for the wider Moorways site.
I believe that the enhanced facility is what many people in Derby would prefer. As this project is a once in a generation opportunity for the city, it’s crucial that we carefully consider the options available before moving forward.
Derby needs a pool that meets the swimming and leisure needs of local people, while not burdening taxpayers in years to come. In my view, a venue that maximises wider commercial opportunities is the best way to ensure that this is the case.
And I believe that the additional investment required for an enhanced facility is worth considering if it means we can yield greater long-term benefits for the city.
From the outset, we were clear that the £20 million put aside in the Council’s 2017/18 budget would not cover the total cost of a new swimming pool and work is ongoing to identify additional funding, including looking at grants that may be available from external organisations.
Many people will also be asking why the Council is planning to build a multi-million pound swimming pool at a time when others public services are being reduced.
While Derby City Council has been badly affected by Government cuts, we are still able to borrow money to fund one-off projects through our capital programme. We cannot do this to pay for the annual running costs of our services.
And as I’ve said previously, our existing facilities are no longer fit for purpose. Queens’ Leisure Centre is now 85 years’ old, so it’s vital that we take decisive action to ensure residents in Derby can continue to access water space for public swimming.
Like a mortgage, capital build-costs can be spread over the lifetime of the pool, which could be more than 50 years, and with interest rates at record lows, capital investments are more affordable than they have been previously.
Nevertheless, we recognise that situation could change, so our plans are based on rates considerably higher than the level we are able to borrow at currently.
Our approach to this project has been prudent. We have made no promises that cannot be delivered, nor have we rushed into making decisions before we are ready. But we are now moving forward.
Subject to approval next week, we expect more detailed plans to be available by Autumn 2017, ready for further reports to Cabinet and a planning application before the end of the year.
We also remain committed to starting site works this year, by demolishing the existing swimming pool and sports hall, and it remains our ambition to open the new facility in 2020.
In the meantime, we will be developing the financial strategy and refining the business case to ensure that our plans meet the needs of Derby residents whilst remaining sustainable for the Council.
I’d like to thank those members of the public who have contacted me about this exciting project. As we progress, I’ll ensure I continue to listen to your views and keep you updated as we reach more important milestones.