Like many other local authority-run swimming pools, Wirksworth has a small annual deficit, though certainly far less than either Bakewell or Ashbourne. This subsidy is one readily accepted by the Amateur Swimming Association as a way of promoting swimming as a healthy and life-enhancing activity.
DDDC’s budget cuts raised the spectre of pool closure, however a well-attended consultation in the town showed an overwhelming desire to keep the pool open but expressing an even stronger conviction that the responsibility for running the pool and contributing to its financial stability, lay with the District Council.
On Thursday last, however, a specially convened meeting of the Derbyshire Dales District took the decision that yet another local authority-administered facility should be given over to be run and financed by the community it serves. Some will see this as a positive step on the road to the “Big Society” giving real autonomy to a stakeholder group; we beg to differ. Wirksworth’s three ward representatives voiced a strong note of scepticism and voted to retain control within DDDC.
Though we congratulate those members of the community, who fearing closure of the pool, came forward to establish a stakeholder group and an alternative charitable trust; yet another situation in which Wirksworth volunteers rose to a challenge; unfortunately we feel their three year business plan is fraught with financial pitfalls and a lack of long-term stability, as they would themselves admit.
A dependency on the fragility of external funding, a significant need to encourage greater use and a hike in admission charges that will make it the highest of any pool in the district, plus an over dependency on volunteer staffing given as a reservation in their own report, gave us cause for concern.
Leader of the council, Cllr Lewis Rose, said it was time “Wirksworth stood on its own two feet”.
We asked why work to bring the pool up to the required standard under the Disabled Discrimination Act was not being carried out before handing over. The reply was “disabled people can go to Matlock”.
It was our opinion that DDDC was best placed to run this facility, particularly given its present integration within the administrative structure of the Wirksworth Leisure Centre.
There are important recreational and leisure facilities in every community which add to and enhance the general well being of those who live there and are deserving of financial subsidy.
At the end of the day 0.02 per cent of the council’s annual expenditure is a small price to pay to keep open a facility that teaches young children to swim and provides healthy exercise for older people in the community.
However, now that a decision has been made we wish the new trust every success and will work to support their endeavours to keep Wirksworth Learner Pool viable.
We will also hold DDDC to account if at some future date the threat of closure looms large again.
Cllrs Irene and Mike Ratcliffe, Peter Slack
Bolehill, Middleton and Wirksworth elected members Derbyshire Dales District Council