Thursday, December 11, 2008

Seriously worried about Ray

Another day, another Whitby fantasy about the future of Birmingham.

This time, he's promising more jam tomorrow with a proper 50m Olympic swimming pool and leisure centre - costing some £60 million - on a playground in Ladywood.

Well - we might. Watching the BBC Midlands Today report, with Patrick Burns trumpeting it more effectively than Whitless ever could, you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was all but ready to be opened.

But actually, that wasn't the biggest story and I'm amazed that Patrick missed the news. Apparently, Cllr Ray Hassall - formerly a stalwart of the Liberal Democrats - has defected to the Tories. Well - it must be true, the BBC tell us so on their captions...

It can't be that much of a surprise, as the Lib Dems have proven themselves loyal lap dogs to their Conservative masters. It would certainly make life easier if they just did the decent thing and took out the proper memberships.

Anyway, back to the water. As I noted, the report suggested that the diggers were about to move in and Whitless suggests that it could be ready for 2012. Some aren't quite so convinced. Firstly, this is part of a report that hasn't even got through Cabinet yet and the paperwork can be found here. If you read the reports, then you find that all that is being offered so far is funding for the initial development costs prior to planning permission being submitted. Phase 1 of the grand pool strategy sees a £2.6 million borrowing requirement to fund these development plans and that's the sum of it.

The report reveals that they don't even have a cost for it yet, let alone a full funding plan -
Further feasibility study work will quantify the size of additional resources required and consider how to fund them, but the total indicative capital cost for the three ‘first tranche’ facilities is in the order of £84.5m (of which £60.5m is for the 50m pool).
Three facilities, I hear you ask? But we only hear about one of them. Funny that, isn't it?

Curiously, the loyal Tory voters of Harborne get their reward of a new £10-12 million (estimated) pool for consistently returning Whitless to office - much as the loyal Tory voters of Sutton Coldfield have seen £3.5 million spent on their pool. Moseley Baths continues to go begging, as the Lib Dems conveniently sideline their 2004 promises. But the Lib Dems don't miss out - Stechford Cascades is due for a revamp (not before time), although all this proposal promises is some work to develop a business case for replacement - not even the limited detail on Harborne and the Olympic pool. Just to show the value of that Lib Dem support, buried within the paperwork is the revelation that the swimming space at Harborne will more than double from 207 sq m to 463 sq m, while the prediction for Stechford envisages a cut of 30% in 'swimming space' from 666 sq m down to 463 sq m. This is regarded as a good solution for the second-busiest pool in the City - slashing the size of one of the most popular sites and increasing the size of a pool in the bottom third for visitors.

What else is on the cards? The same report 'models' a strategy for Birmingham swimming, forecasting that the following pools will be retained and refurbished: Wyndley, Cocks Moors Woods, Fox Hollies, Kingstanding, Northfield, Small Heath, Handsworth, Erdington and Stechford - plus the rebuilt Harborne and the replacement for Ladywood. Slated for potential closure are Beeches in Perry Barr, Castle Vale, Linden Road, Newtown, Sparkhill and Tiverton Road (Birmingham's oldest pool). Also missing from the refurbishment list is Moseley, that centrepiece of Liberal Democratic promises for several years. To be fair, the model does propose new pools in and around Selly Oak, Longbridge, Hodge Hill and Sparkhill, but that still puts at least three pools in danger of closure.

So, back to the matter of funding for what has been proposed. They have already spotted some opportunities
Capital resources of £30.5m have been identified to date (including up to £24m prudential borrowing capacity...
So, they've only really found £6.5 million of resources and will have to go and borrow some more. That still leaves a gap of £30 million to fund just the 50m pool or a yawning chasm of £54 million if all three are to be fully funded. We're getting used to this serendipity school of economics - the Library of Birmingham project has kicked off with the plans allowing for a black hole of some £39 million for which funding has yet to be identified. The 'prudential borrowing capacity' will supply another £99 million in loans, while £55 million will come from sale of city centre land. Given that the property market is languishing in the doldrums, there seems little prospect of this being realised any time soon. Rather like this pool plan, the library plans are only funded to proceed to the pre-planning stage.

But surely they've planned for the operational costs of the pool?

There is no provision in the revenue budget or LTFS for additional running costs,

Oh. They haven't. So, what are they going to do?

a number of options are being considered, e.g. rationalising inadequate buildings to provide modern facilities and increase water space.

That's suitably opaque. One of the council officers has let the cat out of the bag

Assets including “unproductive” leisure land may be disposed of in order to fund the project, according to assistant director of sports and events Steve Hollingworth. More than 60 sites are being looked at, which include 19 pools, along with other council assets, Mr Hollingworth said

Right, so we'll get a nice new pool in the City Centre - in a Labour seat too - but the outer edge will predictably suffer to pay for it.

I've forecast that the Library of Birmingham won't be open anytime soon, but I think that it will open its doors well before the first swimmers leap into the 50m pool. However, I'll also bet that the Harborne pool will be open before before either.

Looking at that caption again, I wonder if the BBC haven't got it right after all. Who says that it has to be an abbreviation?


Anonymous said...

"As I noted, the report suggested that the diggers were about to move in"

They are still going ?
I thought Cromwell saw them off , mind you The Levellers were seen in the city centre a couple of months ago.

Fergus said...

Clearly, you'd prefer Harborne pool to close permanently, just because of where it's located.

Well, it'd give you something else to whinge/crow about, depending on your mood and the way the wind's blowing.

This, and other, pools are basket-cases due to 20 years of underspend on maintenance by your friends on the Labour Group. Of course, if Harborne pool was in the middle of Ladywood, you'd be screaming if anyone suggested closure. Bit like Monument Road baths, in fact. Did you scream when Labour closed that one, and never built the promised replacement?

PoliticalHack said...

No Fergus, I don't want Harborne to close completely and you can't draw that conclusion from anything I've written. I'm delighted that they are getting a new pool - I just note that theirs doubles in size while Stechford's reduces by a third.

And as we're dragging up history, remember that for most of those two decades of Labour control, we had the misfortune of a Tory government. The current administration has benefitted from massive funding boosts negotiated by the preceding Labour authority.

Fergus said...

Well, you are certainly suggesting that the new Harborne pool is a bribe to the Harborne electorate.

As for the "funding boosts", if you're dragging up history, that would explain the eye-watering over-spends the current administration took over (from Labour) when they took control. Just to remind you -that was a Labour council under a Labour government.