Row over new city pool plan

Ripon Spa Baths.
Ripon Spa Baths.

Liberal Democrats have been accused of “mischief making” after they put forward an alternative borough council budget allocating £1.5m to replace Ripon Spa Baths with a new swimming pool.

After Ripon Independents and Conservatives voted against the alternative proposal to the one adopted by the Tory-led administration, Lib Dem Coun Pat Marsh wrote to the Gazette accusing city representatives of putting Ripon’s quest for a new pool back “by 10 years at least”.

But Ripon councillors have hit back at the Liberal Democrat’s claims, saying £1.5m is not enough money, that plans are already in place to secure the required funding and voicing concerns the Lib Dems’ alternative budget would not balance.

Coun Pat Marsh (Lib Dem) claims Ripon’s councillors at the meeting to discuss the borough’s budget favoured spending money on new office accommodation at Knapping Mount for Harrogate Borough Council at a cost of £9m.

In her letter – which proposes an alternative swimming pool site next to Ripon Leisure Centre as part of a community health hub – Coun Marsh said: “Ripon Spa Baths have been in a bad state for a long time and in 2007 a condition survey was undertaken. The finding indicated that to keep the baths open for the next 10 years the council would need to spend £633,254.

“Those 10 years are coming to an end and good money is being spent on bad.”

But Coun Alan Skidmore (Con) has dismissed the Lib Dem claims, arguing a long-term ‘Healthy Ripon’ plan was already in place to secure a new £3.2m swimming pool.

The ‘Healthy Ripon’ project, launched in 2003, is supported by North Yorkshire County Council, the Clinical Commissioning Group, the Secretary of State for Health, and 
Harrogate Borough Council which has already put £350,000 into the project.

Coun Skidmore also argued that £1.5m was not enough money to build a modern swimming pool for Ripon and accused the Lib Dems of “sheer mischief making” in an effort to block the council’s office move.

He said: “My take on the matter is quite simple. Their proposal was not an alternative budget, it was cherry picking a number of items and the drive behind that was quite clear and straightforward.

“They oppose the office move and were taking money out of it which would save the council and taxpayers more than £1m a year but there has already been two years of work on the swimming pool gone on in the background.
“The plans are already in motion but you are not going to get £3.2m overnight so we have to work in conjunction with a wide variety of people that can fund it.

“If that means waiting a little longer for the new council offices, then so be it.”

Doubts over whether the Lib Dems’ figures added up prompted Coun Pauline McHardy (Ind) to reject the alternative budget.

She said: “Ripon has been waiting a long time for a swimming pool and, if it had balanced, I would have had to give it thought because I’m an Independent and support whatever is best for Ripon.

“However, the budget did not seem as balanced as the original one proposed but we did not vote against having a new swimming pool.

“On the contrary, we all want one but they can’t cherry pick bits out to suit them.”