NINE months since a shock report cast doubt on the future of at least three of the region’s eight swimming pools, a joint strategy has been drawn up to retain all the facilities for at least the next 10 years.
The pools will continue to be run by their charitable trusts and details of how their maintenance and refurbishment will be funded will go before Scottish Borders Council on August 25.
It was the same cash-strapped council which spent £30,000 commissioning the report by consultants Kit Campbell Associates into all the region’s sport and leisure facilities.
That document claimed the “biggest single saving” would come from closing the Hawick pool and asserted that SBC “needs to consider closing the Selkirk pool”. Both are run by the Borders Sport and Leisure Trust (BSLT) which also operates the pools in Galashiels, Peebles, Eyemouth and Kelso.
The Campbell study also flagged up the “possible closure” of the Jedburgh pool, run by the ad hoc Jedburgh Leisure Facilities Trust (JLFT).
The scenario spawned angry protest meetings in each town with a total of around 1,500 dissenters attending, while a 70-delegate conference of major stakeholders, representing the spheres of health and education as well as sporting interests, took place in Galashiels in March to discuss the consultant’s report.
And it is the feedback from that public engagement which has informed a new sports facilities strategy (SFS) which will be launched next month, with the retention of the current level of swimming pool provision at its heart.
The vast majority of consultees favoured holding on to locally-based facilities, for health and access reasons, urging more investment in the pools, albeit coupled with efficiences.
Only 2 per cent agreed in general with the Campbell findings, with only 1 per cent supporting a “hierarchy of provision” – another key recommendation with a centralised regional complex, including a competition-standard swimming pool and athletics track, being created at Netherdale, Galashiels.
“The public has spoken and we have listened,” admitted Councillor Graham Garvie, SBC’s executive member for sport, culture and community learning and chairman of the new Borders Phyisical Activity, Sport and Physical Education (PASPE) group, bringing together the trusts, the council and NHS Borders.
“All the feedback is being pulled together to form part of the new strategy which is being issued to all PASPE partners, conference delegates and leisure and sporting interests,” he told us.
“Amendments will be incorporated before the SFS goes to the full council meeting on August 25.
“Among the key proposals will be a plan to retain all swimming pools in the region as part of a strategy taking the region’s sport and leisure through the next decade and beyond.”
The proposals also stress the need to improve the use of, and access to, school facilities and the development of all-weather pitches serving the nine major Borders towns – all those with pools, plus Earlston. Key to this provision is working with local individuals, groups and organisations to create new community sport and leisure plans around these hubs.
High-profile backers of the new strategy include local sporting legends John Collins and Gregor Townsend.
“We have left no stone unturned in striving to create something that truly reflects what the Borders needs and wants,” said Mr Garvie. “This is not something we expect to get 100 per cent right immediately; it will take time working with partners to improve the strategy year on year.
“Sports facilities in the Borders need investment. Our current and future generations deserve better and the way to achieve that is through careful strategic thinking and co-operative working.”
Tony Taylor, chairman of the BSLT, told us: “We have been disappointed at the length of time it has taken to get us to this stage, but we are hopeful we now have a clearer way forward and that councillors will approve the new strategy without further delay to let us move on and develop our facilities.”
TheSouthern understands it will cost the trusts nearly £1.6million a year to maintain the current pool provision from now until 2015 and that an annual capital allocation of £280,000 will be “levered in” to maximise external funding to refurbish and develop the facilities.