IT HAS been one of the most long-running and bitter rows in Oxford’s recent history.
But after name-calling and a whole host of allegations, the saga of Temple Cowley Pools could soon come to a surprisingly amicable conclusion.
Campaigners wanting to save the facility from closure are hoping to sit down with Oxford City Council to work out a deal which could see them buy the pools themselves.
Presenting the petition with other protesters to Lord Mayor Elise Benjamin at the Town Hall in 2011
This would lead to there being a swimming pool both in Cowley and in Blackbird Leys – where the city council is currently building a multi-million pound replacement to Temple Cowley Pools.
Over the four years that the campaign has been running there have been allegations of assault made against a city councillor – which have been rejected by the police and the city council – and a campaigner has been banned from Temple Cowley Pools.
New community asset legislation gives the Save Temple Cowley Pools campaign six months – at least in theory – to thrash out a deal with the city council before the authority can agree a sale with a developer.
Campaigner Nigel Gibson
Nigel Gibson, a member of the Save Temple Cowley Pools group, said: “I think buying the pool is very realistic. This gives us an opportunity over the next few months to look at all the possible options and come up with the one that offers best value for the community and the city council.
“It is up to the city council to achieve best value from the pool but that doesn’t necessarily mean selling it for the highest price.
“We have always tried to be positive and we have always tried to cooperate with the council from the very start but for whatever reason the council has chosen not to engage with us.”
The city council has earmarked the site for 26 homes, which the campaigners have managed to include in their preliminary designs for the site.
City councillor Mike Rowley
City councillor Mike Rowley, the executive board member for leisure services, said he had no objections to selling the site to the Save Temple Cowley Pools campaign. He said: “The council will decide on what represents best value to the public and that includes both price and the quality of the proposed development.
“Temple Cowley Pools is failing and needs to be replaced.
“We want a pool that we are confident will be open for a long time to come and will be able to offer first-rate leisure services to the people of Oxford.
“We know the campaigners’ views and we respect people’s rights to have different views, but in the end the decisions were made in the best interests of the people of Oxford in general.
“I am very glad that the group has come up with this constructive proposal now and as far as I am concerned the debate over the future of Temple Cowley Pools is no longer an argument.”
A community asset
ASSETS of Community Value were introduced in the Localism Act 2011.
They allow community groups to “stop the clock” on the sale of valued community facilities and attempt to buy them.
If an asset is listed and then comes up for sale, it gives communities six months to raise the money and put together a bid to buy it.
During this six-month period the asset cannot be sold to anyone other than the community group.
The city council has not set a price for the sale of Temple Cowley Pools, and is inviting offers instead.
Complex has lengthy history of investment
Temple Cowley Pools was built in the 1930s and totally redeveloped in the 1980s.
In 2007, the city council says it was forced to invest nearly £200,000 just to keep Temple Cowley Pools open.
The pool complex being built in the 1930’s
At the time city councillor Jim Campbell, then board member for better finances, warned that the facility was at risk of becoming “unusable”.
More money was invested in the pool and in January 2010 the decision was made to build the Blackbird Leys swimming pool to replace the Temple Road facility.
In September that year the plans to close Temple Cowley Pools were formally ratified, sparking a 10,000- signature petition for it to stay.
Pool manager David Evans pictured in 2007 when the popular diving pool had to be closed because of structural problems
In 2011, a judicial review was launched against the decision to close Temple Cowley Pools and when a town green application for Blackbird Leys Park was turned down this sparked another one against the construction of the new pool – which by this time had planning permission.
Campaigners lost their fight against the closure in the High Court in December 2012 – three months after the new pool was supposed to open.
A judicial review was granted into the designation of Blackbird Leys Park as a town green but this was dropped in May last year – paving the way for work on the new pool to start in July.
With the new pool set to open in December 2014, Temple Cowley Pools was put on the market in January of this year but designated as a community asset in April.
What the campaigners say
THE campaign group say that in agreeing to close Temple Cowley Pools the council has ignored overwhelming public opinion in favour of keeping it.
It says Temple Cowley Pools is accessible to more people than the new pool and says it has heard from many people who wouldn’t be able to get to the new pool.
Campaigners have also raised concerns about the accuracy of the figures which the city council has quoted for the cost of the new pool and the running of the existing one.
They also say that the East Oxford and Cowley areas have seen large increases in population over the past few years and closing the pool will deprive them of leisure facilities.
What the city council says
THE council says it has a maintenance backlog at Temple Cowley Pools of £2.3m and is spending £500,000 a year just to keep it open.
It has contrasted this with other leisure facilities such as the ice rink, which makes the council money.
Simply refurbishing Temple Cowley Pools would not be good value for money, the city council says.
And the council anticipates that more visits will be made to the new Blackbird Leys pool compared to the existing Temple Cowley facility – 375,000 compared to 183,807 in 2012/13.