Westbury must run the town’s swimming pool and recreation centre, if it wants to save them from closure.
Wiltshire Council has been carrying out a review of leisure facilities in the county, and the review is now proposing that Westbury should step forward and run its own facilities through community ownership.
Westbury Pool came under threat earlier this year after Wiltshire Council identified an “overprovision” of swimming pools in west Wiltshire. Over the course of the campaign to save the pool, both cllr Jane Scott, leader of Wiltshire Council, and cllr Stuart Wheeler, Wiltshire Cabinet member for leisure, sport, and culture, offered their assurances that the town’s historic facility looked set to remain open. However, they had hinted that community ownership would be proposed for the pool; an option that members at a public meeting last month strongly objected to, voicing their opinion that Wiltshire Council should continue to run the pool.
Cllr Wheeler says that the pool is “a local facility that would be much better run by local people.” However, in a report in May, the Save Westbury Pool committee outlined their concerns with community ownership; primarily that Westbury Pool does not have the opportunity to create multiple income streams. Even if linked with Leighton, the project would have to cope with managing two separate sites, and community ownership schemes also require large amount of volunteers, as well as in-depth business, finance, and operational planning.
Bob Lee, chair of the Save Westbury Pool Committee, said, “The news isn’t a surprise, but it’s still a disappointment. Our reservations remain the same, and it’s difficult to know how the books will balance. I feel that Wiltshire Council are abdicating their responsibility; small places like Westbury get it every time.”
Mike Cuthbert-Murray, president of the Save Westbury Pool Committee, said, “What we would like is for Wiltshire Council to carry on funding it but it’s a luxury Wiltshire Council can’t afford now – in the current climate there are cuts everywhere. I think if people really want to keep the pool in the town they will come forward. We will be looking at speaking to other community trusts like Calne to see what they would and wouldn’t do again, it will be interesting to see that. Nothing’s easy, but county have promised that they will help set up a community trust within the town and do the relevant training.”
New indoor bowls facility
The review also proposes that Leighton Recreation Centre should be placed under community ownership. It is suggested that the site could house a new indoor bowls facility, which would be transferred from its existing location in Melksham.
Westbury is not the only town facing an uncertain future. Wiltshire Council says, “Currently, the council would need to spend £93 million to maintain the existing 23 facilities over the next 15 years. This would not include any improvements or new facilities and, in the present financial climate, this amount of money on simply maintaining the facilities is not sustainable.” Instead, the council proposes a major shake-up of leisure provision in the county, closing some centres, transferring others to community ownership, and the creation of some new leisure campuses. Other facilities in the county, such as the swimming pool in Bradford-on-Avon, and sports centres in Tisbury and Pewsey are facing a similar future to Westbury, while facilities such as Trowbridge Sports Centre and Warminster Sports Centre will be closed. Instead, Wiltshire council will be spending £117million on the remaining facilities and new leisure campuses in the county, the closest of which would be in Warminster. However, the Warminster campus is not set to open until 2021, and would result in extra travel for Westbury residents. Bob Lee commented: “The Warminster centre is no consolation – I’m concerned about the carbon footprint, and it may of course draw people away from Westbury at the time we’re trying to make a community trust work.”
The leisure review, which addresses leisure provision in the county for the next 25 years, is due to be brought to Cabinet on July 27th. At this meeting, proposals to consult with local communities will be discussed, and a consultation will be brought to the public through the area boards. The council say they want to start conversations with the public now and is inviting views and comments from local people on future leisure provision. A questionnaire will be widely available at council offices, libraries and leisure centres and online from August 2 but in the meantime the council can be contacted on 0300 456 0100 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.