Splott Pool Saved?

Campaigners fighting to save Splott Pool in Cardiff have learned firsthand that standing up for yourself and your community can win results.

Just ten days ago, Cardiff Council announced plans to shut this treasured facility as part of the £22.5 million worth of cuts it wants to make to Council services. But Luke Holland, Labour Councillor for Splott and cabinet member, announced yesterday to a meeting of local residents and campaigners that “Splott Pool is not going to close”. Holland openly admitted that it was the pressure of the magnificent campaign – which put thousands of names on petitions, sparked a protest of 200 just days after the threat to close was announced, and packed the STAR leisure centre with 130 people to launch an action committee – that seems to have forced the Council to reconsider. One 80-year old campaigner declared: “Five generations of my family have learned to swim in that pool. Now the Council wants to close it? Over my dead body!” Darren Warburton, the group's reluctant leader, spelled out what was at stake for Labour councillors unless they backed down: “We haven't changed our views, but they seem to have gone from red to purple. They'll have to learn that if they take these things from us we'll never vote them back in again.”

Campaigners aren't packing away their placards just yet. Instead of closing Splott Pool, the Council is now proposing to shut the STAR centre, and add some as-yet unspecified new leisure facilities to the Pool site in nearby Tremorfa. The announcement, made at a public meeting called by the Labour Party, was met with a mixed reaction by the audience who heard it: many were relieved at the scrapping of the Pool closure plan, some hoped that the new facility would improve leisure services in the area, but others were extremely sceptical. And no wonder. Labour politician after Labour politician said at the meeting that there is no alternative but to make the cuts demanded by the Tory-Liberal Coalition running the Government, and that ordinary people would have to accept that there is less funding so there will be fewer services. This year alone, Cardiff Council plans to make £2.37 million worth of cuts to sport, leisure and culture.

But on the other hand, all the Labour Party figures present claimed that leisure services in the area would be improved by the new plan. Something doesn't add up, and the instinct of many was that giving up one of just two sites housing leisure services in Splott, Tremorfa and Adamsdown – one of the most economically deprived areas of Cardiff – is an extremely risky step given how vague the replacement plans are. Some noted that the Councillors are desperate to relieve themselves from the pressure of anti-cuts and closures campaigners in the run-up to the budget meeting at the end of the month. There is a real danger that what is actually on offer is a shiny building, which houses cut-price leisure services not up to the standard of those provided by the STAR. Darren remarked to the meeting, “I know this is Cardiff, where they make Doctor Who, but it seems like you're counting on getting in the same guy who built the TARDIS to make this new facility.” Campaigners will be scrutinising proposals extremely carefully, especially because of the attempt to stampede residents into supporting the plan by threatening to bring the Pool closure back to the table: Labour Councillor Greta Marshall increased fears by saying that the Pool's future could not be guaranteed unless the community accepts the new proposals. Campaigners are standing firm: they are demanding that the cut in funding this year to Splott Pool is deleted from this year's budget. The new plan should be discussed separately.

There were other questions raised at the meeting. The site currently occupied by the STAR centre will be sold off to build housing and the money used to fund the construction of the new building. There was no clear commitment not to use short-cut PFI funding, which locks Councils into paying private companies for decades, long after the facilities have become unusable. Others questioned whether the creaking infrastructure of this industrial urban area could cope with more development. But the biggest question is why do ordinary people have to “lose something to gain something”, as Adamsdown Labour Councillor Manzoor Ahmed claimed? Leisure services in this part of Cardiff should be able to get the refurbishment and improvements the local population need without having to resort to selling off land facilities every time. At some point, there will be nothing left to sell.

Campaigners will demand action and an alternative long before that. Cardiff Council is sitting on a cash pile of £61 million in reserves and could borrow another £100 million to keep services running instead of making cuts. But as yet none of the Councillors are willing to stand up to the Tory-Liberal Coalition Government and the bosses of the Labour Party who support cuts. These parties should be warned: every time a campaign develops activists are urged by their community to stand as independent representatives of the working-class people they live alongside. For now, though, they've sent a message that will embolden all the other campaigns that are developing in Cardiff – to save Plasnewydd Community Hall and Cardiff Riding School, to stop cuts to respite care, and many others – and across the rest of the country that it is worth FIGHTING because you CAN WIN.

Ross Saunders


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