Sparkhill Residents Reject PFI Swimming Pool Proposals

Sparkhill residents last night unanimously rejected proposals for a PFI-funded swimming pool on the Moseley School site in Springfield Road. Steve Beauchampé reports on a highly charged meeting (This article also appears on The Stirrer website).

A public meeting of Sparkhill residents last night unanimously rejected proposals for a PFI-funded swimming pool on the Moseley School site in Springfield Road to replace the former pool on Stratford Road, which closed in July 2008 after 77 years of service owing to major structural defects.

The meeting, organised by the Save Sparkhill Baths campaign group, was attended by around 80 residents, Councillors and Council officials following news that private sector firm Pulse Fitness (who already run many gymnasiums on city council leisure sites) had offered to build and operate a new pool for the district in return for an initial £3m of public investment.

But after 90 minutes of what at times was a messy and rowdy meeting, a straw poll of residents voted unanimously in favour of the promised replacement facilities being located on the site of the current pool, adjacent to Sparkhill Park, in what many regard as the civic heart of Sparkhill.

Council Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and Culture Martin Mullaney came under fire for appearing to favour the Pulse proposals, finding himself isolated with not one member of the audience supporting the proposal, and even fellow Liberal Democrat Councillor Jerry Evans cautioning against the plans.

Evans, who together with Respect Party Leader Salma Yaqoob, are contesting the Hall Green Constituency at the forthcoming General Election, were keen to distance themselves from what was clearly an unpopular proposal. They were joined in their opposition by Labour’s Roger Godseiff, the sitting MP. Mullaney however, as an elected council official, is legally obliged to give detailed consideration to Pulse’s intervention though there is little doubt that their plans hold for him the significant attraction of allowing the city to deliver a rebuilt Sparkhill Pool and undertake essential refurbishment works to re-open the Gala Pool at the Grade II* Moseley Road Baths in Balsall Heath within the £15m allocated to the two Hall Green Constituency projects by the Council’s Cabinet last October.

However, concerns, including the Springfield Road location, the loss of community control over public facilities, the absence of a learner pool in the Pulse proposals and ideological arguments over PFI schemes led the meeting to express support for one of the more expensive options, either a six-lane pool, 60 station gym, sauna and dance studio (costed at £13.1m) or a four-lane pool, learner pool, 30 station gym, sauna and dance studio (£10.9m).

Mullaney meets Pulse Fitness for the first time today (Thursday) to look at their plans in detail, though it is already known that their proposal would involve a six-lane pool with moveable floor, an 80 station gym, sauna and dance studio. School usage would be prioritised during weekdays (as is currently the case at most Birmingham pools) however a separate entrance would allow public access to the site (which also includes a sports hall and floodlit pitches – though these are not part of the PFI proposals). The meeting heard that the city council would continue to set the tariffs for public use of the new centre’s facilities but would be expected to meet an anticipated shortfall in running costs (which includes a fee payable to Pulse for operating the centre) of £228,000 per annum. If given the green light, the pool would be operational by 2013.

Mullaney pledged full public consultation once talks with Pulse had been concluded and the final details of their proposals established, telling the meeting that public opinion would be “a very strong factor in our final decision.” The exact format and timescale of any public consultation exercise is yet to be determined but, Mullaney stated, would be conducted by Sparkhill Ward officials.

Steve Beauchampé

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