EXCLUSIVE: Billericay Tory says ‘I told you so’ as council waters down planned £9m pool rebuild

OFFICERS at Basildon Council have advised councillors to abandon a plan for a brand new swimming pool in Billericay.

In February 2018, Labour council leader Gavin Callaghan announced in a budget meeting that his administration would spend £9million rebuilding the pool.

But a report by council officers has now recommended simply extending the existing facility.

The document says the change of heart occurred after a fire in September 2018 forced operators to close the pool for repairs.

The report, to be considered by the council’s Neighbourhoods and Public Spaces Committee next week, says: “The unforeseen fire restoration and compliancy works now being undertaken will enhance the longevity of the facility… Another option now available to the committee is to ascertain the feasibility of the council delivering an extension to the current facility.”

The council’s old plan was to build a larger main pool, a new learner pool, a gym and 70 parking spaces.

The new proposal – which is more than £3million cheaper – still includes a learner pool, a gym and new parking spaces, but suggests retaining the existing main pool. The report also says councillors will have the option to remove the additional learner pool from the plan.

The revised proposal would mean closing the pool for 18 months whilst the works were carried out.

It has already been closed for a year but is presently due to reopen in October, after the fire damage is fully repaired.

Billericay Tory Phil Turner blasted Cllr Callaghan and his alliance, saying the revised plan vindicated his long-held scepticism.

In February 2018, immediately after Cllr Callaghan announced the £9million development, Tories called it a ‘stunt’ and Cllr Turner told the YA that regenerating Billericay Swimming Pool was a Tory policy, costed at more like £2million.

He said: “The £9million is a sop. It’s never going to happen; 2019/20 will come and they’ll find some reason they can’t deliver it.”

Speaking this week, Cllr Turner said: “I hate to say ‘I told you so’ – but I told you so. It was all smoke and mirrors. I’ve regularly had residents asking me when the new pool was going to happen and I’ve been telling them, ‘Don’t hold your breath’.

“There was a plan for a new pool and a new gym when I was leader, done in the same way that we did with the Wickford pool, so the whole facility was upgraded. What you’re seeing is probably something going back to what the Conservative policy was.

“In my opinion, they are going to remove the training pool as well. For sure. Otherwise it wouldn’t be in the report.”

But committee chairman David Harrison, of the Wickford Independents, defended the proposal, saying the regenerated Billericay pool would still be ‘as good as, if not better than’ what the Tories had done in Wickford.

He added that extending the current facility, as opposed to demolishing and starting from scratch, would ‘considerably’ reduce the amount of time the pool would be out of action.

He said: “We are just trying to do the best we can for the people of Billericay. When we had to fix the pool after the fire, we had to put a lot of work in, to bring it up to modern day building standards, and that’s a bit of a bonus for the council because it means we can do something similar to what we did for Wickford.

“Adding the training pool brings the cost up to about £5million. So I think we can do for Billericay exactly what has been done for Wickford, but even better.”

He added: “My view is that I would include the training pool, but that is up for discussion next week.”

Cllr Harrison said that whatever decision the committee took, the pool would reopen in October and remain open until works were ready to commence on any regeneration.

The Neighbourhoods and Public Spaces Committee will discuss Billericay Pool’s future at the Bas Centre on Wednesday, September 25, at 7pm.

Charles Thomson

Chief ReporterEmail: [email protected]