Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Coventry City Council and the London Borough of Bromley

  We welcome the decision of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee to hold a public evidence session to examine current issues around the sport of swimming and particularly the challenge of swimming pools in listed buildings.

  1.  The City of Coventry and London Borough of Bromley have a long history of support for swimming, working in partnership with the swimming clubs and the Amateur Swimming Association and providing top class facilities for competitions.

  2.  It will be helpful for the Committee to be aware of the particular issues facing post-war listed swimming pools—at Coventry and at Crystal Palace. These facilities, like many others built in the 1960s and 1970s, are now in need of major investment if they are to meet the needs and expectations of swimming and local communities in the 21st century.

  3.  Our experience is that in many cases, architects and surveyors would advise that many of these facilities are at the end of their useful life and that it would be more efficient and effective to demolish and replace with new buildings. Inevitably, such a conclusion provides an opportunity for a radical re-think about the provision of swimming pool facilities. The decision to grant Grade 2 listed status to Coventry and Crystal Palace significantly limits these options.

  4.  It is understood that the listing of the 50 metre swimming pools recognises the significance of these buildings as representing the commitment of the nation and individual local authorities to improving the quality of life as part of post-war reconstruction. However, the scale and complexity of these buildings means that the options for providing for current day needs and matching customer expectations is significantly limited. Both Coventry City Council and the London Borough of Bromley are active in pursuing the best options possible within the constraints of the listing but feel that the Committee would want to be aware of the challenges which this presents.

  5.  The pool designs were based on the needs of international swimming competition in the 1950s and 1960s. They now fall short of modern day standards for international competition, while still lacking the flexibility required for community provision—teaching children to swim, fitness swimming, family enjoyment, etc.

  6.  The level of revenue subsidy required to keep these buildings going is above average and potentially restricts the level of investment which the local authority may be able to put into broader community provision for sport and recreation.

  7.  Local authorities and swimming pool operators face a real challenge of achieving a programming balance to meet the varied demands on swimming pool usage, eg:

    —  teaching children to learn to swim—acquiring a key life skill.

    —  providing for adult fitness swimming—one of the safest and most effective forms of exercise which can make a real contribution to health targets.

    —  competitive swimming to achieve their potential in the sport and supporting elite athletes in their efforts to bring home medals. It is understood that there is likely to be an increased emphasis on training and competition for top level swimmers in 50 metre, rather than 25 metre, pools.

    —  swimming for fun, relaxation and meeting with friends.

  8.  Having reached the decision to list these swimming pools, DCMS is asked to give some special consideration to how local authorities and swimming pool operators might be supported in facing the challenges outlined above. This help might include:

    —  An approach to listed building consents which achieves a balance between preserving the essential features and atmosphere of these buildings whilst allowing for example the introduction of modern materials, environmental controls, access arrangements, revisions to layout, in order to meet modern day demands.

    —  Special assistance with capital funding, either through Lottery, the Capital Modernisation Fund or PFI credits.

    —  Assistance with the additional revenue running costs created by the listing. This could perhaps be a similar approach to that taken for the funding of museums which hold designated collections considered to be of national significance.

  Committee Members and DCMS officers are most welcome to contact either of us for further information or perhaps to arrange visits to see the issues and challenges at first hand.

29 November 2001

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