Friday, 2 May 2014

Should Penzance Town Council not fund the Jubilee Pool?



Another blog and I'm afraid another can of worms and like all cans of worms who knows what the repercussions could be. Apologies for the provocative title but lets face it many don't care about local issues. I stand ready to see all those who comment and bitch at me without reading this blog fully and understanding it, so please if you can spare a few minutes. Things get built and things get pulled down, public services get closed down and long after the consultation process and campaigners have accepted their cause is lost, the things happens people start to get angry, that something happened in this or that way. I'm hoping this is a slightly different issue, without any risk of exaggeration the Friends of Jubilee Pool are ecstatically gushing about the 3742 people that signed the petition titled Save the Jubilee Pool in Penzance and provide match funding for the application to the Coastal Communities Fund and particularly the comments made on the petition site and I can't say I blame them.

The Jubilee Pool is an icon of Penzance, it's prominence and reputation means having it derelict for perhaps months years or forever is a terrifying thought. I'm not going to wax lyrical about it's importance as a leisure facility, why we need to protect public services or any of the such. To me it speaks for itself, so lets get on to the nuts and bolts.

There was a confusing story about the future of the pool, first Cornwall Council sent out press releases proclaiming their sadness that a grant application to the Coastal Communities Fund was rejected. Then after a number of individuals brought the truth to light, another press release which added the words because we did not match fun the bid (thus dooming it to failure). Thanks to pressure from the Friends of Jubilee Pool, the powers that be have had a rethink. They are now ready to resubmit a bid but it needs to be done by the ninth of May (7 days from now). Which is all relatively simple.

Where it gets complicated is the Town Council's involvement, though my letterbox yesterday was papers declaring a Special Meeting of the Town Council on next tuesday the 6th of May. With a briefing this morning with senior officers and cabinet members in Penzance (a sure sign of their commitment). Still less than a week to consider what was being proposed and come to a decision. Bearing in mind this is the first official papers, discussion or anything to come before town councillors. Now, in broad brushstrokes the answer is so simple, yes the town council should support the pool, but broad brushstrokes it ain't.

There are two recommendations to the council to deliberate upon, but in fact they are not really two they are completely intertwined. Basically it is an offer from Cornwall Council, that basically amounts to an ultimatum. Made more acute by the surprise of the suggestion, the fact it has not been trailed and it needs to be decided now or never. Although Cornwall Council have done a u turn on putting money into the grant bid, it's not that simple. They want firstly for the town council to contribute £40,000 from the Devolution Budget to the bid, which adds more money and demonstrates a local partnership to Eric Pickles along with the petition signatures and the Friend's of Jubilee Pool. (The Friend's are fundraising for this at the moment see their website to contact them.)

The opportunity or catch depending on your view is that Cornwall Council's (very generous) contribution to the bid is also from their devolution pot. So this is not money for putting in bids, capital expenditure or any such thing. So the second part of the recommendation to the town council is that we commit to working together to take over the pool ourselves (or perhaps in partnership with the Friends). Sweetening the deal is the offer of perhaps taking over the car park across the road (St Anthony's) to offset some of the cost of running the pool. Also funding for the transition period of a takeover.

This puts me in a quandary frankly, by the principles my answer is overwhelming yes. Should the town council take on more services, should things be devolved? the answer is yes. Should the pool remain open? is it worth public money to keep it running? yes. But as I wrote above it's not just broad brushstrokes, it would be foolish to take on services without considering the financial implications. Which brings me to the nub of the bid, attached to the agenda for tuesday's meeting is an engineers/ consultants report detailing what works need to be done, to repair the storm damage and work that has been long overdue. The headline cost is estimated at over £2 million. A facility that apparently is uninsurable from storm damage.

So what do you think people? In case it's not clear above, this is a zero sum game, Penzance Town Council says no and the broader community support is not demonstrated in the bid and a lot more importantly Cornwall Council's devolution money goes somewhere else. In other words, unless someone wins the lottery any time soon the pool has no future, without a yes on tuesday.

Now until tuesday is precious little time to consider the ramifications of the decision we will make then, so help me out...