Award-winning synchronised swimming club urges councillors to 'dig deeper' to save pool

“Dig a little deeper – and save our pool”, young swimmers chanted to lobby councillors, urging them to reconsider dimensions of a new leisure centre swimming pool.

Members of the Halifax Synchronised Swimming Club outside the meeting

Dozens of members of national champions Halifax Synchronised Swimming Club were protesting at Halifax Town Hall that the dimensions of the proposed new pool will force them out of town.

In the full Calderdale Council meeting a Liberal Democrat motion to reconsider was defeated and a ruling Labour amendment was passed which said Sport England were happy with the proposals, external funding was still being sought and actions taken to deliver the multi-use centre are welcomed.

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But changing the dimensions of the pool would have added £2 million to the scheme’s cost, which the council could not afford, said Labour councillors.

The new £24 million pool will be part of a new leisure centre which will be built on the site of the existing one at North Bridge, Halifax.

It will replace the now closed Halifax Swimming Pool – the council said this had become uneconomic to repair – but the club say it is not deep enough for some of their swimmers to train and use without risking injury.

The club, whose member Isobel Davies is in the current Great Britain synchronised swimming squad, are the current national champions at the 15s and under level and are nationally rated sixth out of 45 clubs.

Lead coach Charlotte Hughes said their issues were with the new pool’s depth – two metres at the most whereas the closed pool had a 3.8 metre depth – and a lack of spectator seating, necessary for a competition pool.

It would badly impact the club’s – which has 115 swimmers – operation in Calderdale, she said.

“It would end in Calderdale. The council are saying we need to go to a centre of excellence in Leeds but they are lower down the table than we are today and a lot of our swimmers wouldn’t be able to go to Leeds,” said Ms Hughes.

In the improvised council chamber – due to the COVID-19 pandemic – Coun Sue Holdsworth said this was a once-in-a-generation chance to provide the correct facilities and it was “short sighted in the extreme” to build a pool not long enough for international competitions or deep enough for activities like synchronised swimming.

“We need to encourage usage across the borough with competitive facilities and an exciting offer for young people,” she said.

Cabinet member for Public Services and Communities, Coun Jenny Lynn said the council had put in a bid for cash to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund.

“The challenge as ever is how to make this facility financially viable so that we will not be burdening present and future council taxpayers with borrowing costs which cannot be met from income generated by the new centre each year,” she said – adding other services would have to be cut to meet shortfalls.

Coun Susan Press said the new pool met the needs of 98 per cent of 2019-20 users.

Coun George Robinson said extra borrowing had been needed, and approved, in the past to fund other projects and Coun Steven Leigh said it was ridiculous to contemplate replacing something with an option that did not at least replicate exisiting facilities.

“If you’ve got 98 per cent, why spoil something?” he said.

Coun Holdsworth said some income-adding sessions booked at the old pool by the club privately had not been taken into account in the council’s calculations – the club’s swimmers were using it for an annual 22,678 hours.

After the meeting the club questioned the additional £2 million cost and said requests it had made to see calculations had not yet been met.