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Campaigners fighting closure of Oaklands Swimming Pool blast Southampton City Council over controversial plans
DEFIANT campaigners fighting the closure of a Southampton swimming pool delivered a loud and clear message to council chiefs last night.
Well over 150 people crammed into Lord’s Hill Church to passionately tell the city’s leisure boss of their anger at the cost-cutting plan to axe Oaklands Swimming Pool.
Cllr Warwick Payne was told his nickname among Labour party colleagues must be “Short Straw McGraw” for having to enter the “lions’ den”, during a heated meeting in which he repeatedly faced loud heckling as he attempted to justify the controversial decision.
The meeting was told that council leader Cllr Richard Williams couldn’t attend as he was at the Olympic Games, Children and pensioners stood side by side in the packed public meeting, as residents, local politicians, swimmers and parents voiced their horror at the loss of the facility.
Speakers lined up to criticise the decision, one of the first acts of the new Labour administration, and accuse the party of “lying” in election promises not to cut services and safeguard the pool.
The pool’s closure was described as yet another blow to Lordshill , with many bemoaning a lack of any investment in the area or provision of things for young people to do, while others said they feared the impact it would have on public health.
The Rev Robert Sanday, from Lord’s Hill Church, said: “I visit lots of elderly people in the area and it’s a shock to see how many people are immobile, and the one thing you can do when you’re an amputee is swim.
“The closure of the pool is going to kill people. People are going to die because of this and that’s a very sad thing.”
Cllr Payne said it would cost up to £230,000 to bring Oaklands Pool up to standard, as well as a further £485,000 to modernise it sufficiently to keep it viable.
He said: “It was losing £250,000 a year – that’s £5,000 every week it was open. These kind of figures just can’t go on.”
To heckles of “you do”, he continued: “Nobody in this room wants the pool to close.
“If the council had a limitless pot of money there would be a swimming pool in every part of the city.”
Cllr Payne added that Oaklands was the city’s only leisure facility not to have been effectively privatised and passed to the control of Active Nation, and accused the former Conservative administration of deliberately allowing it to get into an untenable position. He said: “We’ve been bequeathed a pool that had been run into the ground and was dead on arrival.”
Workers at the pool told the meeting Oaklands had been closed at weekends despite that being its busiest time, and disputed Cllr Payne’s claims staff have been redeployed.
Labour’s Coxford Cllr Keith Morrell, who voted against the closure along with colleague Cllr Don Thomas and arranged last night’s meeting, accused the leisure chief of changing the figures, and said there was no evidence to back them up.
He said: “The figure for refurbishment is based on nothing more than a guesstimate.
“The reasons given to the public to justify closing the pool are not worth the paper they’re written on. We believe the reason for the closure of the pool is so it can be demolished at the same time as the rest of the school site ready for a developer.”
Suggestions for ways of preventing the closure voiced at the meeting included siphoning off council tax contributions from nearby residents and asking Eastleigh Borough Council to step in and repeat its bail-out of Hampshire Cricket’s Ageas Bowl.
Issuing a rallying cry to persuade opponents to continue fighting the closure, Cllr Thomas said: “People say there’s apathy on issues, well look at this meeting – we’re packed to the rafters. This is a battle that can be won.”