Call for 'architectural quality' as old Leeds International Pool site goes up for sale

Whether you liked it or loathed it, the Leeds International Pool was an unmistakable feature of life in Yorkshire's biggest city for 40 years.

The old Leeds International Pool, pictured in 2001.
The old Leeds International Pool, pictured in 2001.

Opened amid great fanfare in the late 1960s, it was beset by early problems – most notably the discovery that its main 50-metre swimming pool was too narrow for eight-lane Olympic standards.

Its stark, modernist design also saw it branded one of Leeds's least attractive buildings – but, by the end of the 1990s, some conservationists were hailing it as a thing of architectural beauty.

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And now, with Leeds City Council ready to sell the land at Lisbon Street where the pool stood until its demolition in 2009, heritage experts are urging developers to do justice to the site's important role in the city's past, present and future.

Demolition work at the Leeds International Pool in 2009.

Martin Hamilton, director of Leeds Civic Trust, which opposed the pool's demolition, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "We felt that it was a building of great architectural interest – one of the best examples of modernist architecture in the city, and deserved to be retained on design grounds alone.

“We have no objection in principle to any sensible use for this site, but given its prominent location at the western gateway to the city centre, we will be pushing for a building of the highest architectural quality.”

Officially opened by the then Lord Mayor of Leeds, Col Lawrence Turnbull, in September 1967, Leeds International Pool was designed by Pontefract architect John Poulson – later jailed in a notorious 1970s corruption scandal.

Known by many as Westgate baths, it provided training facilities for the top-class competitors who helped make the City of Leeds swimming club among the most successful in the sport.

An artist's impression of a development that was proposed for the pool site in the 2000s.

Familiar names who have taken international honours with the club over the years include Adrian Moorhouse, James Hickman, Claire Huddart and Linda Hindmarsh.

The end for the pool came in 2007, when it was deemed surplus to requirements due to the opening of the John Charles Centre for Sport in Beeston.

The site has been used for car parking in recent years, with plans for a 24-storey residential tower dubbed 'The Spiracle' falling victim to the credit crunch in 2008.

As reported in yesterday's YEP, the council says the land offers around half-a-million square feet of potential space for commercial and retail developments.

The start of the Ladies 100m Breaststroke Final in the ASA Championships at Leeds International Pool in 1996.

The local authority announced its decision to invite formal competitive bids for the site at the MIPIM international property conference in Cannes.

Martin Farrington, the council's director of city development, said: "This Lisbon Street site occupies a prime position among many of the city’s top financial, legal and professional services employers within our core business district, which makes it a very desirable space and development opportunity."

The official opening of Leeds International Pool in 1967.