To receive and debate a Petition presented to Council on 10 October 2018 by representatives on behalf of Save Grange Lido.
Note – The Chairman, Councillor Eric Morrell, declared a non-pecuniary interest in this item of business by virtue of his involvement with the Grange Community Interest Company, and left the Council Chamber during the discussion and voting. In his absence, the Vice-Chairman, Councillor Stephen Coleman, took the Chair.
Mr Phil Bradby, Chair of Save Grange Lido, re-presented the petition brought to Council on 10 October 2018, over 1,000 signatures of which had subsequently been verified, the wording being, “we want GRANGE LIDO restoration to include the SWIMMING POOL, and South Lakeland District Council to confirm that any option without a swimming pool will be ruled out.”
Mr Bradby said that Save Grange Lido was a voluntary community group working to help bring forward the restoration of a much loved swimming pool. He said that, when he had last swam in the pool when he was about 10 years old and living in Kendal, little had he known that almost 40 years later he would be working with a group of volunteers to save it. Mr Bradby said that it should not be forgotten that the decision being made today was not only for the current residents of Grange, but for the future generation of children in the whole South Lakeland District Council region who, the Group hoped, would one day thank the District Council for making the right decision. Mr Bradby said that he was also speaking on behalf of approximately 18,000 people who had signed the Group’s petitions and the 74% of respondents in the official consultation who had asked that the Lido be restored for swimming. Mr Bradby pointed out that, a few miles away was one of the very best lidos in the country, and the District Council was its custodian. The Lido was one of just four of its kind and was exceptional because of its historically important art deco design and because it had a 50 metre swimming pool.
Mr Bradby started with one very important point: the Group was not asking for any money. It simply asked for the chance to raise the capital itself, and to make the business work. The Group wanted to add the pool back into the plans being prepared by the District Council’s officers.
Mr Bradby said that the five minutes allocated was not long enough to cover what needed to be said, nor was it long enough to address all the misunderstandings and misinformation which abounded, so he would draw attention to just two points in this regard:-
Contrary to what was being said, Mr Bradby said that the official reports showed that the Lido was viable with a pool.
He quoted the Neo Now, Options Appraisal 2013, “Our conversations with other lidos and open air pools elsewhere in the UK, which have centred on their running costs and income streams, have confirmed that it is financially sustainable to operate a lido...”
Mr Bradby said that the Group’s carefully researched business plan drew on the knowledge and experience of numerous successfully operating lidos, from Cornwall to Scotland, and came to the same conclusion. He said that Council officers were, understandably, cautious, but the Lido was too important to dismiss the Group’s business plan without proper professional assessment. The Group asked that consultants with the appropriate expertise be engaged to review this.
In addition to the petition, Mr Bradby handed in letters of support from the Cumbria Amateur Swimming Association, Ulverston Triathlon Club, Carnforth and District Otters Swimming Club, Chillswim and Ulverston Amateur Swimming Club Otters.
(2) Capital Costs
Mr Bradby said that, in relation to capital costs, various enormous figures had been quoted, but he had the estimate from Wrightfield Pools to restore the pool and plant. They were a leading UK specialist and had restored the pool at the hugely successful Lido Ponty. The estimated cost was £1.2m, which the Group had offered to raise.
Mr Bradby felt that this was an investment opportunity which was too good to miss. For a relatively small investment and at no cost to taxpayers, Cumbria could have a much needed 50 metre pool, a superb local amenity for schools and the community, and a tourist attraction for the Cartmel Peninsula.
Mr Bradby said that the alternative option of filling it in, whether temporary or permanent, would lead to a long, expensive and contentious planning and legal process. It would also be a financially poor decision because the investment, of approximately £2m of public money would add nothing to Grange or South Lakeland. It would just become a sad line on the ground and a space with no particular demand or function. It would have none of the revenue generating potential that a properly restored lido would offer the area.
Mr Bradby said that the £250,000 the Council planned to spend on filling in the pool could be spent in much better ways, especially as it could lead to another £250,000 to take it out.
Mr Bradby pointed out that Cumbria swimming clubs were crying out for a 50 metre facility to save the huge amount of time they wasted driving to pools in other counties. Building a new one would be prohibitively expensive but renovation of an existing facility was achievable.
Mr Bradby drew attention to the Group’s strong support from Cumbria Amateur Swimming Association, Swim England, numerous swimming clubs across the county, Chillswim, and Ulverston Triathlon Club.
Mr Bradby referred to Morecambe which was thinking big and bringing about meaningful regeneration with its Eden Project, and felt that Grange Lido would fit perfectly into such a regeneration of the Bay. He referred to the recent rise in popularity of lidos and outdoor swimming which meant that there had never been a better time to restore the Grange Lido. He pointed out that, in the UK today, there were 130 successful lidos and outdoor pools, the majority of which were run by community groups. What the Group had in mind was, therefore, not unusual, unprecedented or unrealistic - it was, in fact, perfectly achievable with sound business planning and some positive thinking. This positivity would bring Grange and the whole of South Lakeland a fantastic restored art deco lido that would be the envy of councils across the country. It would bring new life, leisure opportunities and improve the health and wellbeing of children and adults alike. It would do all that while enhancing the local economy.
The Group, therefore, asked the Council to seize this opportunity to vote for the only sensible and feasible solution which was to restore Grange Lido with a swimming pool at its heart.
The Director of Policy and Resources (Monitoring Officer) drew attention to the fact that, subject to approval of the budget decision by Council, the decision on the design options for the Grange-over-Sands Lido, being an Executive function, would be made by Cabinet. She explained, however, that it would be appropriate for Council to forward any comments raised to be taken into account during consideration of the matter by Cabinet at its meeting scheduled to be held on 23 January 2019. Cabinet would be provided with a detailed report in order to enable an informed decision to be made.
The Director of Policy and Resources (Monitoring Officer) provided clarity with regard to suggested inaccuracies within paragraphs 3.13 and 3.14 of the report currently before Members relating to the petition, as follows:-
3.13 The paragraph in the Neo Now report referred to mentions discussions with other lidos: 11 were considered to be viable, figures were not obtained on a further nine. She explained that this was not a statement of Grange-over-Sands Lido being viable, but rather a more general statement of viable lidos across the UK.
3.14 She advised that it was correct to say that Historic England would not be supportive of permanent infill of the pool. Currently, the South Lakeland District Council proposal was for partial temporary infilling of the pool, so as not to preclude any future or long-term restoration aspirations. Officers had worked closely with Historic England and South Lakeland District Council’s Conservation Officer in order to ensure that the current design was appropriate and sympathetic with regards to the heritage listing.
Councillor Jonathan Brook, Deputy Leader and Housing, People and Innovation Portfolio Holder, thanked members of the Save Grange Lido Group for their passion and commitment to the project. He reminded all present that there would be an opportunity for a further, more detailed debate at the Cabinet meeting scheduled to be held on 23 January 2019.
Councillor Brook said that this was a complex issue with a long history and differing opinions about viability and finances. The Council had listened to the different interested parties the proposals being put forward were for a light touch refurbishment allowing the Council to stabilise the structure and the sea defences, to make the area safe and to open it up to the public, whilst at the same time allowing Save Grange Lido Group to further develop its plans. The District Council’s plan allowed for the possibility of a future pool, whilst enabling the Council to carry out the job of making urgent repairs to the existing structure.
Councillor Brook did not believe it to be appropriate at this stage to narrow down the options and to commit to a re-watered pool whilst the costs and future liability of the Council in respect of a pool restoration were not fully understood. He, therefore, moved the recommendations as set out within the report, adding that he looked forward to working further with all interested parties whilst, at the same time, getting on with the job of restoring this iconic structure and cleaning up and opening up a site that had been a blight on the town of Grange for too long.
Councillor Andrew Jarvis, Finance Portfolio Holder, seconded the motion.
Councillor Tom Harvey indicated that he had been a Member of Grange Town Council for approximately 10 years and that he had heard both sides of the argument. He felt that the Save Grange Lido Group, which was full of business expertise and drive as well as an ability to generate funding, should be given an opportunity to move forward with their plans. He stressed, however, that the Council should work closely with the Group and fully scrutinise its plans. Councillor Harvey proposed an amendment to recommendation (2) on the report, that, “following receipt of the petition, the Council endorses working with Save Grange Lido Group to fully scrutinise the plans with the view and ultimate aim of handing over the Lido to the Save Grange Lido Group, once fully constituted, and to do all it can to facilitate and assist the Group in delivering its ambitions.”
The proposed amendment was seconded by Councillor James Airey who reminded Members that working in partnership with the community was key for South Lakeland. He felt that the proposals to temporarily infill the pool were ludicrous when the site could potentially be a jewel in the crown for South Lakeland. He pointed out that the Save Grange Lido Group’s innovative idea ticked all boxes – health and wellbeing and economic viability. He also stressed the fact that the Group would welcome the Council seeking the services of an independent consultant to look at and review the Group’s business plan. He asked for Council to wait a little longer and consult on the Group’s plan and to give the people a chance to deliver.
Members discussed the proposed amendment.
Councillor Giles Archibald, Leader and Promoting South Lakeland Portfolio Holder was of the opinion that the spirit of the amendment was consistent with what had been said by Councillor Brook. The Council wanted to work with Save Grange Lido Group subject to conditions being satisfied. The suggestion that the Council should hand the asset over to the Group was, however, problematic with regards to liabilities, and could jeopardise the Council’s aim to restore the site for the public.
Councillor Janette Jenkinson highlighted the fact that initiatives such as lidos were back in vogue, with people seeking different experiences. She was of the opinion that a pool element should be included in the plan. She referred to the successes of the Coronation Hall and Haverthwaite Railway. The Coronation Hall had been run by Ulverston Community Enterprise for the past five years, and that group was able to access funding that the Council could not.
Councillor Matt Severn enquired if Councillor Harvey had changed his opinion on the matter since February 2017 when he had been quoted in Cumbria for saying that, with costs starting at £500,000 and getting higher, what was clear was that the site would lose money year after year as a swimming pool, and that it should not fall on taxpayers to pick up the burden.
Councillor Ben Berry pointed out that his family was making a significant investment in the Low Wood Bay Resort and that the highlight was the provision of an outdoor pool. He was of the opinion that if a commercial operator was building an outdoor pool in the knowledge that this was what people wanted, then the Council should allow a community group do the same for the whole of the community and South Lakeland.
Councillor Vivienne Rees explained that she represented an area, the people of which were concerned with problems around swimming provision in the Central Lakes. She referred to the case of a former indoor pool facility and stressed the need for evidence for a realistic plan, with advice from experts. She referred to the Save Grange Lido Group, to its willingness to take on board the asset and to the practical manner in which it was acting and believed that, with appropriate investigation and advice, then it could be worthwhile in pursuing the Group’s plan.
Councillor Robin Ashcroft paid tribute to the Administration for having grasped the issue of the Lido which had been an eyesore for two decades. Councillor Ashcroft was conscious of the diverse views across the community of Grange. He believed that the site needed to be financially sustainable as well as having utility and felt that thought must be given to this, with an open process and good communication. He felt heartened that there had been an improvement in communication in recent days and encouraged this moving forward. He was of the opinion that the Save Grange Lido Group’s plans needed more work and hoped that the Group would be given an opportunity to further develop them. He expressed support for Councillor Brook’s proposals and encouraged the continuation of negotiations.
A vote was taken on the proposed amendment which was not carried.
Councillor Jarvis having seconded the substantive motion said that there was no simple solution, discussions having been ongoing for the past 25 years since closure of the site. He expressed concern with regard to the business case put forward by the Save Grange Lido Group, including the long term viability, inadequate provision for marketing and an optimistic income stream from events. He felt that implementation of the Group’s plans could lead to a major risk and long term obligation to the Council and taxpayers, however, indicated a willingness to work with other parties to see if the issues could be resolved. Given the uncertainties, Councillor Jarvis believed that it was essential that all options were fully considered, including on how decisions had been made or were made could constrain decisions in the future. The suggestion from Save Grange Lido Group was for any option without a swimming pool to be ruled out. Councillor Jarvis was of the opinion that all options needed to be carefully assessed. He urged Members, therefore, to consider all of the options and issues and to consider the way in which to move forward for the best, or the least worst, option.
In response to a query, the Director People and Places indicated that representations raised would be provided by officers to Cabinet when considering the matter at its meeting on 23 January 2019.
A vote was taken on the substantive motion and it was
RESOLVED – That
(1) the petition be received;
(2) the comments made during the debate be forwarded to Cabinet for consideration as part of the decision-making process; and
(3) the Director of Policy and Resources (Monitoring Officer) be delegated authority, in consultation with the relevant Portfolio Holder, to formulate any necessary response that accords with the decision of the Council.
Note – Councillor Eric Morrell, Chairman, resumed the Chair for the remainder of the meeting.