Bid to keep pool scheme afloat comes under fire over debt fears

COUNCIL chiefs have come under fire for proposing to use bank loans to fund a shortfall in the Commonwealth Pool project.

Monday, 31st October 2011, 12:13 pm

The £165,000 loan would cover last-minute changes to the design of the car park to accommodate new regulations for disabled and parent-and child-spaces.

But the actual cost to the council would come in at £252,000 as officials propose borrowing the cash over 15 years. Ricky Henderson, the Labour group finance spokesman, said: “I don’t have a difficulty with making adequate provision for disabled parking.

“However, we have already on previous occasions expressed our concerns about the level of council debt, which is now at unprecedented levels.

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“And this adds just another little bit more to that pile of debt the council has accrued and that has to be a concern to us all.

“It’s only a small amount in comparison to the £1.5 billion we’ve already stacked up, but nevertheless it adds to the amount we’ll have to pay out.”

New regulations for public bodies dictate that larger spaces should be allocated for parent and child and disabled parking.

But rather than accept a 20 per cent reduction in the 136 planned spaces at the pool, council officers wish to expand the site.

The debt of doing so will be passed on to the cash-strapped Edinburgh Leisure, the part-council funded trust that operates the city’s sports centres, which Councillor Henderson believes will impact on members.

He said: “Edinburgh Leisure’s grant has already been squeezed by a huge reduction and it’s had to close centres that the public use.

“There’s no easy way to go about it, but we have to be careful about just borrowing more to make these projects stack up.”

Jason Rust, the Conservative group finance spokesman, said: “The council’s under a legal duty to disabled drivers and I think also a moral duty, so it is important there are appropriate spaces for disabled users.

“But I’d need to look at solid evidence for the car park overall to justify an increase.” The Commonwealth Pool is scheduled to reopen in 2012 following a £37.1 million refurbishment.

Work to the A-listed building includes fitting solar panels to its roof to heat showers and the pool and a new 25-metre teaching pool with moveable floor.

It also includes extending the 50m swimming pool by 1.5m and installing a boom in order to split it into two separate sections.

In the council report’s proposals, which will be voted on on Tuesday, Alastair Maclean, director of corporate governance, says: “The previous known demand for car parking spaces, coupled with the expected increase in customer visits, suggests that work to extend the rear car park will have a positive impact on income, usage and customer satisfaction, and that any environmental impact should be offset by other customers using alternative ways to travel to the Royal Commonwealth Pool.”