Swimming pool closure

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I imagine that everyone was equally surprised when the sudden announcement came through last week that the swimming pool operated by Freedom Leisure was to close until at least next spring.

As we all know, the reason given was the significant increase in running costs which have now reached a level that Freedom Leisure regard as unsustainable. Rother District Council too, have indicated that there can be no further assistance from them, at least for the time being. This is understandable, many councils are cash-strapped right now and the chancellor of the exchequer’s statement on Monday gave no hope that that situation might change, indeed precisely the opposite.

The main concern, though, must be not so much that it is closing for the winter, but will it ever open again?

Running costs are unlikely to go down to any significant extent between now and the spring and even if they do, energy costs will not be the only problem. I have no idea what the costs of re-commissioning the pool will be, but I suspect they are likely to be substantial: making good any deterioration over the winter, refilling the pool, heating it from scratch, overhauling heating, filtration and chemical systems. And then there are the staff. One assumes they will be laid off, but will they still be available in, say, six months’ time or will Freedom Leisure have to start from scratch recruiting new staff?

Both the CEO of Freedom Leisure and our RDC Councillor, Howard Norton have said much the same thing, “Sorry, no money”, but neither have indicated what else might be done to help mitigate the problem. For example, could the leisure centre add to its existing revenue in any way: a small increase in charges, running additional events or services by opening the centre’s facilities up to other organisations, even perhaps a precept on our rates – the feeling in the town seems to be sufficiently strong, that people might accept this. I am sure that the combined creativity of Freedom Leisure and RDC should be able to come up with a way forward.

The leisure centre and its pool are a public facility and should not be allowed to be closed down, for whatever reason, without first consulting with the very public who use it.

In a recent paper circulated to Rother councillors and available to view on the RDC website, it was stated that, for the population of the Rother district, there should be 988sq.m. of water available. Currently Rother has just 843sq.m. The closure at Rye will reduce this still further. The same paper emphasises the need for activity in an increasingly sedentary society and this is backed up by the government’s own policy on sport and activity for all. It is particularly important that young children should be introduced to swimming at an early age – often done through local schools’ participation.

No one is suggesting that, in the current circumstances, many organisations are not subjected to real problems and challenges, but that is not a reason to give up. It is, though, a reason for RDC councillors and Freedom Leisure executives to face the challenge, earn our votes and their salaries, and come up with an answer.

Image Credits: Rye News library .

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12 COMMENTS

  1. I have been swimming in pools all over the country since 1946. Rye is one of the best if not THE best. It would be wrong to close it down, for all the reasons John Minter has stated.

  2. A fair article, but may I just point out one thing? Rother District Councillors cannot ‘earn their salaries’. They don’t get a salary. In the light of which, it’s to their credit that they are working as hard as they currently are to find a solution. (Right, off to the meeting!)

    • Rother councillors do not get a salary but that does not mean they are not paid, they are entitled to allowances. Councillors Stevens, Norton, Mier and Timpe all received the full basic allowance of £4,648 in the year to 31 March 2022. Councillors Mier and Timpe also received special responsibility payments of £2,160 and £2,953 respectively. Additional claims for reimbursement of travel / subsistence costs were claimed by all but Timpe.

      Not large amounts to some, but they are being paid.

      Full details: https://www.rother.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/Councillor-Allowances-2021-22.pdf

      • True. The allowances are taxable, other than motor mileage. I am probably out of pocket when I consider that due to lack of time I have had to employ professionals to do work around the house and garden which I used to do myself. It can be very responsible work too, for example deciding whether taxi drivers should lose or keep their licences. Hard decisions too on planning and property investment matters. (Last planning meeting ran from 9.30am to 5.30 pm plus site visits on the Tuesday and some 177 pages of papers). Just the same it’s very rewarding work, and sometimes I feel I’ve made a difference. I’d encourage anyone who wants to become a councillor. Would be great if we can save the pool.

  3. Absolutely correct.
    But numbers never really tell the whole story. We’re talking about ordinary members of our community giving up a considerable amount of their time to try to improve the lives of local people. That’s a pretty worthy cause.
    And, as your post demonstrates, they’re unlikely to be in it for the money.
    Let’s give people their dues. And if we think we can do as good a job, or a better job, we should volunteer ourselves. Let’s face it, the challenges facing our community are mounting and we can all play a part, big or small.

  4. The RDC ‘Health, Well-being and Leisure Facilities Strategy 2023-2033’ shows that RDC is contravening its own advice in allowing the closure of Rye pool. The strategy states as a key issue: ‘Future opportunities to increase provision of swimming pools should be considered, and specifically a laned pool with daytime access’. This would better meet the needs of an ageing population, RDC states. There are four swimming pool sites in Rother, the crucial fact being that the largest two are privately owned. The largest pool is privately owned by Battle Abbey Prep School, and the second largest by Crowhurst Park holiday park, where the annual membership fee is close to £600 a year. This means access to public pools is limited to Bexhill and Rye. Swimming pool provision in Rother (78%) is well below the average for England (90%). By closing Rye pool, RDC’s own published strategy to have swimming pools available for its residents district-wide is dead in the water (ahem). Once again, the eastern part of Rother has lost out to the more populous Bexhill, because the economics favour Bexhill.
    I very much doubt whether imposing a precept on people’s rates would be welcome, or even a viable course of action. What is really needed is for central government to finance local government properly, to provide enough money for public facilities and services. Instead of adequate funding for local government, we’ve seen public services axed and eroded until many services, including the NHS and social care, seem to be on life support. We can blame energy prices, but the loss of our public facilities and community services has wider roots.

  5. The closure of the swimming pool in Rye is symptomatic of the steady reduction of services in area.
    The bottle bank was closed because people had the temerity to leave waste there, ok they shouldn’t have, but a sensible solution would have been to put a couple of skips there to cope with an obvious demand rather than remove the whole facility.
    The Police station has long since not served its’purpose.
    Rother District Council are now quibbling about the cost (£3700) of clearing up after the historic bonfire celebrations.
    The Landgate arch, which has been standing since 1329, is falling into serious disrepair while RDC sit on their collective backsides deciding whether to spend some money on a valuable historic monument.
    All this, while the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill receives in excess of £500,000 a year from RDC which is also happens to be based in Bexhill.
    Rye being on the edge of the County and the District, is easily forgotten by those who would rule us, and consequently is allowed to deteriorate.
    Freedom Leisure state that Rye swimming pool will have additional costs amounting to £92,000 per year ie. £1770 per week. The rest of the leisure centre will remain open, so money can be found to heat, light and staff the rest of the building. I have no knowledge of the income generated by the swimming pool or the costs thereof, but £1770 per week seems a colossal increase over and above the running costs up to this date.
    Had a consultation taken place between Freedom Leisure and Rye Town Council with the public involved, that information might have been forthcoming and perhaps shown that it was inaccurate. Who knows?

  6. How much did the planning application for refurbishment of RDC HQ cost?
    It would have covered the up keep of the pool for several years!

  7. We’re all outraged about this, and nobody in Rye has a monopoly on anger. We ought to remember why we are where we are : Brexit; Covid; Mini-Budget; Ukraine. There’s presently a £50bn hole in the nation’s finances, and money can’t be magicked out of thin air nationally, any more than it can locally. Everything has to be paid for and there are always political choices – cuts in services or tax rises, eg. For example, between 2011-2016, I think I’m correct in saying Council Tax didn’t rise, which was of course popular with home-owners, but ultimately less of a boon for those who rely on council services, like the pool. The present administration is now managing that legacy in addition to the wider circumstances we all face. The money in the council ‘pot’ is now effectively five years behind where it might be bcs there’s a cap on the annual rate at which Council Tax can increase… Additionally, as we’re painfully aware, we have rising inflation and a looming recession.
    As lots of people have said, the tariffs charged by FL and level of public usage seem ripe for review, and I have to add that the communication around the whole issue has been really poor, and left us all pretty angry and confused. However, I think we should stay focussed on the broader causes of this situation, and continue to work together as a community to save our pool.

  8. Guy makes some excellent points. There’s only a few ways to see the pool reopen for winter: RDC or govt subsidises the heating cost, the local community raises the money (£92k), Rye ratepayers pay a pool precept in their Council Tax, or pool users are charged more for using the facility. The first three options are highly unlikely but the last is a possibility. As already said, we need Freedom Leisure to disclose how many people actually use the pool. My suspicion is that the overall numbers could be relatively low. There is, however, a group of very keen, regular users. It would prove unpopular or unfeasible to charge non-pool using people extra tax so that a few others can swim. If we assume an average of 100 swims a day, or 36,500 a year, an additional £2.50 on the price of a swim would be needed to pay for the increased energy bill. The actual figure would depend on the projected pool use (which FL knows) and, of course, energy prices. I urge Freedom Leisure to reveal the Rye pool use figures so that local people can calculate how much extra they might need to pay to get a swim. Swimming members of Rye Sports centre could be asked whether they’d be prepared to pay the extra amount. It’s not rocket science! We also need a guarantee that the pool will reopen in spring.

  9. When Rye memorial Hospital was threatened with closure Paul Mcartney led the public fightback and donated I believe one million pounds to the resurrection. We now havw a very successful very much in demand local hospital. Could something similar be initiated for our swimming pool. I remember clearly Steve Blattman and others raising money for the pool to be built. It is tragic that so many such individuals are now being forgotten and brushed aside!
    The now successful Discovery Centre which has cost millions was initially started by Joy who had a holiday home in Rye Harbour donating over a million pounds on her death! There must be a way that something similar can be done for our swimming pool!?

  10. This Rod seems to be a sensible guy who should be advising the CounciL. !
    He has Common Sense in sugesting they put a couple of skips at the Rye Swimming Pool site. Also for his energy and enthusism in trying to keep the pool open. Many thanks
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