Lifebelt is thrown to closure fear pool

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COUNCIL chiefs are to consider a rescue plan for a Wigan swimming pool they say they can no longer afford to run.

Hindley baths looked doomed several months ago after the local authority said it would have to close unless someone took it over, then no viable offer arrived by the deadline.

But a stay of execution, prompted by vigorous and widespread campaigning from locals, has given time for a business plan from a community group called Phoenixto be drawn up and will be considered by Wigan Council’s cabinet next Thursday.

The Borsdane Avenue site was identified for closure by Wigan Council as part of the £6.4m savings expected of Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust by 2013/14.

It now estimates it could save £97,000 by relieving itself of the facility although Sport England had already claimed the borough had the worst swimming provision per head of population in the North West even with Hindley baths.

But new hope emerged today. Penny McGinty, the council’s head of leisure, said: “We’ve studied the proposal from the Phoenix Group in detail and officers are able to give a cautious welcome to the plans. I am pleased that we have honoured our promise to keep the pool open beyond its original closing date as this has allowed the group to come forward and set out its case.”

Under the proposal, the pool’s operation would transfer to the Phoenix Group in February. The council and the Trust would work with them on the details of the handover to ensure a smooth transfer. There are no staffing implications as Trust staff would be offered posts elsewhere.

Officers have commissioned a study of how the changeover would affect pool users and the cabinet are to be informed that the incoming group will be able to apply for improvement grants.

Previous examples of successfully involving the community in public services include Aspull Library and Tyldesley Baths.

Mrs McGinty said: “Our pledge will always be that we will make every effort to encourage community involvement in the context of the hard decisions we have to make.

“There are some one-off costs associated with the transfer, but this outcome would save council tax-payers £97,000 a year as well as the costs of having to decommission and clear the site.”

Phoenix member Margaret Rowson said: “These are still early days and the group is very cautious. We are awaiting a lot of information from the council but are pleased that they are giving our plan due consideration.

“A lot of people care about the pool and we have worked into the small hours preparing it.”