Features

In too deep?

lido

Wanstead resident Geoff Horsnell writes in response to an article published in the Evening Standard entitled ‘Three pools planned in East London to capitalise on demand for open-air swimming’ 

In the Evening Standard article (published on 26 April 2023), one of the three new pools or lidos discussed is to be constructed in Valentines Park. The Leader of Redbridge Council, Councillor Jas Athwal’s comments in this article raise a number of important questions with regard to finance and timing.

The lido and associated gym are described as costing “no more than £4m” and is part of a total council investment of some £11m in leisure facilities. Councillor Athwal goes on to say he aims to have this facility, together with four other swimming pools, including the long-overdue pool at Wanstead Leisure Centre, up and running by late 2024. Given the record of the council so far, this is an extremely ambitious time frame and budget.

The Wanstead pool alone has been ongoing for several years now, missing several deadlines in the process. In addition, where is this money to come from? There has been no consultation for this project and £11m is an awful lot of money. Compare this spend to the proposed cost of just £2.4m to “refurbish” Wanstead Youth Centre. There was a consultation for this work; however, it was both difficult to find on the council’s website and was a somewhat biased document. The public was asked such questions as: “What other facilities should be dropped or cancelled in order to fund this refurbishment?” And this is for just £2.4m! Shouldn’t the same question be asked about the lido? Perhaps it is a pet project of the leader, to be funded by him?

This is not the end of the financial concerns. There is not a single open-air lido in the country that is self-sufficient. Open-air swimming pools must be kept clean to maintain public health. Any passing flock of birds can foul the water. Then there is the matter of staff and maintaining the pumps and heaters – all of which adds up to an annual drain on public finances. Has any attention been given to these substantial ongoing costs? It may be that some costs can be offset by charging the public to access the lido. However, it is an open-air pool. It is unlikely to be used in adverse weather – which in this country would probably rule out at least six months in every year!

Back in March, there was a public meeting over the proposed closure of Wanstead Youth Centre. This was at the forefront of a lot of people’s thoughts. Those organisations that regularly use the youth centre had already been told not to book further ahead than this summer – leading to speculation that the decision to close the centre had already been made.

There are surely a number of questions here that can and should be raised by our local ward councillors. We need to know our money is being spent both carefully and wisely – not recklessly on pipe dreams.


To read the Evening Standard article, visit wnstd.com/eslido