On Wednesday Kettering Swimming Club handed in a petition to Kettering Council signed by more than 1,200 people asking for them to consider a new pool for the Borough. This was the speech they made at the time. It is a thoughtful analysis of the current and future position of local swimming facilities, and offers a sensible way forward.
For several years now my Labour colleagues and I have desperately tried to start a discussion about whether or not a replacement pool for Kettering is needed or feasible. So far no serious discussions have happened and those questions remain unanswered. As is suggested below, “Kettering, it appears, has no interest in improving the sports facilities in the Borough” and I certainly see the council’s reluctance to engage with these issues as an example of their lack of ambition and imagination.
“Earlier this year the R&D Committee decided to disband the Task & Finish Group investigating the potential for Council to undertake a feasibility study into a new swimming pool in the Borough. The decision was made, despite no progress on its terms of reference, because the Committee felt that any future action would be in the hands of the Unitary Authority and Council was not in a position to make any commitments.
Council is now working with the Joint Development Committee to decide on the investment priorities for the new Authority. Ten Social & Cultural Priorities have been identified across North Northants, including GLaM in Kettering. Eight of the remaining nine Social & Cultural priorities are sport related. Corby has identified the requirement for outside sports facilities; East Northants for Cricket, Rugby and Football pitches and a 3G pitch; whilst Wellingborough has identified a Sports Hall, two 3G pitches and a swimming pool. Kettering, it appears, has no interest in improving the sports facilities in the Borough.
Obesity in Kettering is at 12%, which is higher than the Regional and National average. NICE Guidance for Obesity Prevention states that Local Authorities should “assess the effect of their policies on the ability of their communities to be physically active”.
It is accepted that the need to travel is a demotivating factor when it comes to exercise and yet Council appears to have no ambition to improve access to sports facilities for the community. A community that is already the largest in North Northants and is expected to grow significantly over the coming years.
Council recognises that the Borough does not have sufficient water for swimming to meet the demands of the local population. The North Northants Strategic Sports Facilities Framework identifies that Kettering will have a shortage of water of 476 square metres in 2031 – that is an additional 8 lane, 25 metre swimming pool. Wellingborough meanwhile will have a shortage of just 17 square metres. Or, if it is successful in building a new pool, a surplus.
The Strategic Sports Facilities Strategy identifies that swimming is the number one participation sport in the Borough and is also the sport that more Kettering adults want to do. Northamptonshire Sport have just completed a survey of over 1,800 14-19 year olds, 378 of which were in the Kettering district. The data shows that, within this cohort, swimming is the second most preferred sport of all respondents and for both genders.
Over the last two years I have heard Councillors state that Kettering cannot have a pool like Corby. I don’t believe anyone has asked for a 50m pool. I have also heard a Councillor reminisce about the good old days and learning to swim in the old pool with Miss Bonham, questioning why a teaching pool would be necessary when learners can just swim widths at the shallow end. We also used to cane children. We should not set our ambitions based on our experiences.
A Council Executive made the statement that “no pool in the Country makes a profit”, yet Hinckley Leisure Centre, built at a cost of £15M, returns a surplus of over £400,000 per annum to Hinckley Borough Council – almost double the return Council expects from its investment in commercial property in Wakefield.
In late 2017 Horwich Leisure Centre was opened in Bolton. This was built next door to the site of their old facility. In 12 months there was a 23% rise in footfall with 4,500 children taking swimming lessons. When asked the reason for the increased use a Bolton Councillor stated that it was “down to the state of the art facilities”.
Kettering Amateur Swimming Club is 105 years old. Half of the money we spend on pool hire goes outside of the Borough. A third of our pool training takes place outside of the Borough. We hold our Club Championships outside of the Borough. Our recruitment is limited by the pool time we have access to and by the condition of our home facility. We are currently looking for additional pool time – outside of the Borough. At what point do we cease to be Kettering’s swimming club?
With the support of individuals on this Council, the Club has been driving the campaign to see a new and improved swimming pool in the Borough. We were naturally disappointed when the Task & Finish Group was disbanded but willing to wait and engage with the Unitary Authority. Having read the infrastructure investment framework it is clear that we have to do something now. Why would the Unitary Authority consider investing in leisure facilities in the Borough if they are supporting eight other projects across North Northants? Why would they consider a new swimming pool in the Borough if they are investing in one in Wellingborough?
The Club started an online petition and collected paper signatures at the Health & Wellbeing Festival. With minimal promotion the petition has received 1250 signatures. This may not seem a huge amount and, indeed, is below the threshold to trigger debate in Council. However, we believe that time is of the essence. Decisions on investment are being made now. Kettering needs, and the community wants, a new swimming pool. It is imperative that this Council acts to include a new swimming pool in its infrastructure plans before the new Authority is in place.
We call on Kettering Borough Council to reconsider its investment priorities within the scope of the North Northamptonshire Joint Core Strategy to include a new swimming pool that meets the demands of the Borough“.