Wiltshire Publications

Issue 459 – Overwhelming support for town pool

In a huge show of support for Westbury Swimming Pool, over 100 members of the public attended a public meeting held by the campaign to save the town’s pool on Thursday 8th April.

The meeting was attended by councillor Stuart Wheeler, who is Wiltshire Council cabinet member for leisure, sport & culture, and Robin Townsend, head of leisure for Wiltshire Council.
Cllr Wheeler said, “It is fair to say that I have been left with absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the people of Westbury want to keep their pool. I’ve been amazingly impressed by the amount of community support. I think it is highly unlikely that we will be recommending the closure of Westbury Pool.”
Bob Lee, chairman of the Save Westbury Pool Committee, said he was pleased with the statement, but warned against complacency. “We’re taking it as a positive comment. We knew we weren’t going to get a firm answer and the fight is not over, but we’re very pleased cllr Wheeler made the statement – we’ll keep reminding him of that one!”
Westbury MP Andrew Murrison, who attended the meeting, said, “We’ve had a strong assurance. But it’s important to keep the pressure up – it was clear cllr Wheeler was impressed with such a show of support.”
The future of the historic pool was thrown into doubt earlier this year after Wiltshire Council identified an ‘overprovision’ of swimming pools in west Wiltshire, and a review of the county’s leisure facilities is currently underway.
Cllr Wheeler is keen to stress that no decisions have been made. At the meeting he said, “One thing I want to make clear is that there is no recommendation on the table to close Westbury Pool.
“When the new council was formed we had to look at everything we’d inherited – there’s a plethora of facilities – and what we decided we had to do was to make a review of all the facilities across the entire country of Wiltshire and create a plan for the next 15-20 years to make sure we have the right facilities in the right places for the population. That review is still underway.”
The review team expect to finish the report in the summer months. Once completed, the review will be presented to Wiltshire Council with a series of suggested options. It has been promised that a public consultation will follow; however, many people have voiced their scepticism that their voices will be heard in this process.  
Meanwhile, the campaign to save the pool continues. There are currently 1,850 signatures on the main petition, and it is hoped that this number will rise above 2,000. The facebook group currently has 1,472 fans, and 279 people have signed an online government petition, although this has now had to close for the official campaign period for the general election. The campaign has the support from the Victorian Society and Save Britain’s Heritage, and the application for listed status is being fast-tracked. 
One of the options that the review may suggest is that the pool should be transferred to community ownership. However, members of the Save Westbury Pool Committee has doubts about the viability of such a scheme for Westbury. Committee member Neil Tribick said, “The successful examples of this type of set-up have the ability to generate their own income, and we don’t have that at our swimming pool. We would not very easily be a success story like the others.” 
It costs Wiltshire Council £65,000 a year to keep Westbury Pool running on a day-to-day basis, out of a £5 million budget for leisure which the council has for the whole county. However, people have voiced suspicions that the council is trying to get out of its responsibility to provide for the community.  “With a community trust, the council gets out of any responsibility for the staffing and management of the pool,” said Neil Tribick. “It would be like running a business, and that’s not what we want.” 
The committee will meet again this week to reflect on the issues raised at Thursday’s meeting.  “The meeting was a superb catalyst,” said Bob Lee. “It was very well attended, and lots of opinions were raised. We really put cllr Wheeler on the spot and I think he’s given away a few too many things. We came to the meeting looking for people to fill some positions on the committee, and people have come forward and filled those positions. So it was a very productive meeting, and has stirred things up a bit. We’ve shown that people from across the spectrum care.”