Richmondshire District Council has approved pumping more than a third of its annual council tax income into the first major overhaul of Richmond Swimming Pool in nearly 30 years after being warned the council could not afford to do so.
Alongside agreeing to spend an estimated £1.44m keeping Richmond swimming pool wind and watertight, re-glazing the pool and installing green features such as solar panels, Richmondshire District Council’s corporate board gave the go-ahead to give a new 20-year lease and funding agreement to Richmondshire Leisure Trust.
The charity which was handed the management of the authority’s pool in 2004 on the understanding it would make the facility both more cost-efficient and self-sufficient.
However, the meeting was told the trust had a poor track record in generating funding and the swimming pool operation was still funded in its entirety by Richmondshire council taxpayers.
Councillors heard the annual £248,000 grant to support the trust was the largest discretionary payment made by the Independent-Liberal Democrat-Green coalition council.
Opposition leader Councillor Yvonne Peacock said the trust had been given the pool’s management as it could apply for grants, which the council could not.
She said while it was hard work obtaining grants, other sporting trusts in the district, such as Yorebridge, had managed it.
Fellow Conservatives questioned whether the council with dwindling reserves which needed to borrow money to carry out the works should be spreading the project over a few years.
Councillor Ian Threlfall said: “To spend 35 per cent-plus of our council tax income in one year on one project is maybe too much too soon.”
Councillors agreed while public swimming pools needed an element of public funding it was time the “open-ended cheque book” policy for the pool was ended. They said the trust would need to be more publicly accounted in future, detailing its efforts to become more self-sufficient.
The authority’s leader, Councillor Angie Dale said the investments would give the trust and the pool long-term certainty while improving the facility’s environmental credentials.
Cllr Helen Grant added: “Since 1974 the swimming pool has served Richmondshire very well. Investing at this level now will ensure it is there for another 20 years or more.”
Members of the council’s corporate board recommended the spend when they met last night.
Their decision will be considered by full council next week.