In May 2019 I was the first Conservative Deputy Leader of Allerdale Borough Council in over a decade, and we stopped Labour's plans to sell off the Keswick Leisure Centre. We had done some preliminary work on a replacement centre, for example recognising that its replacement would need to be a proper laned swimming pool - rather than the leisure/splash pool that the original 'Keswick Spa' had been - but then Covid hit, slowing down everything.
We had always considered that we had a bit of time to develop plans. The pool was over 35 years old and hadn't been well-maintained in the previous decade. It had a significant leak and was costing a considerable amount just to maintain the status quo. The Covid closure signalled the final death knell and the decision was taken to permanently close the pool in 2021.
Conservative-controlled Allerdale Borough Council set about on a consultation exercise to determine the leisure facilities that Keswick needed, publishing a full report in March 2022. In March 2023, a feasibility study was published which proposed two options for a new leisure centre both including a swimming pool - one at a cost of £9.3m and a larger option at £13.6m.
On the 1st April, the baton passed to Labour-controlled Cumberland Council. And there the story ends - for now...
Labour councillors were noisy about a replacement pool until that point, but nothing since. Was our Keswick Labour councillor bought off with a part-time Executive position paying £29,000/year - itself a a 210% pay rise in a little over 12 months?
Our local councils don't have great track record with swimming pools under Labour. Labour-controlled Cumbria County Council closed Wigton Baths until it was saved by a local charity. The same administration closed the Netherhall School swimming pool for the sake of just £150,000 investment.
When I secured nearly £5m for a new pool in Maryport as part of the Maryport High Street funding, Conservative-controlled Allerdale Borough Council embraced it, finding the additional capital required to deal with rising construction costs. When the baton again passed to Labour-led Cumberland Council, they refused the government funding both to build and to run it - cancelling the plans in the face of widespread public opposition.
The council will claim it's about running costs - but this is purely about political choices. It's worth remembering in this discussion that leisure facilities across Cumberland are subsidised to the tune of over £2m/yr without capital (borrowing costs). The options identified by Allerdale Borough Council identified a revenue cost of £178,000 in year 5 - less than Maryport's Wave Centre receives every year without a pool, and running as a commercial entity.
The Sands Centre in Carlisle recently underwent a £20m makeover to include a new pool, and is about to undergo a £multi-million Phase 2 redevelopment. Yet it receives over £1m/year in subsidy. Labour have cost West Cumbria three swimming pools already, and they're standing in the way of a fourth. These are political choices.
There is a cost to deteriorating public health, and swimming pools can make a significant saving by keeping people healthier for longer.
But I'm not prepared to let the story end there, and neither should you. Back my campaign 👇