There were heated exchanges at last night’s public meeting to unveil new proposals for a leisure facility to replace the Afan Lido.
Many passionate speakers put the case against aspects of the scheme and there was overhwelming outrage at the Council’s plans to include a library and enterprise units in the leisure centre.
“We want the old Lido back,” said one man. “We want a first-class swimming pool.”
The Council has now pledged to look again at business models and costs before they put their final list of requirements to designers.
In response to local complaints, they have also postponed next Monday’s planned vote and extended the consultation period, meaning councillors will not now vote on the plans until the end of July.
The public meeting had been called by Neath Port Talbot Council after protests by local campaigners at the early proposals they put forward in January. Around 150 people attended the Princess Royal Theatre to hear the latest plans.
Since the Afan Lido was destroyed by fire in 2009, the Council has looked to replace it with a six-lane pool in a mixed-use building which also included a library, IT resource centre and enterprise units.
But Aberavon Surf Lifesaving Club led a campaign to protest that a six-lane pool was not big enough and that spectators and dry-side sports such as football were not adequately catered for in the scheme. They were also concerned that the Lido would be moved from its former seafront site to a new site incorporating the vacant ten-pin bowling alley in Hollywood Park.
Last night, The Council’s Head of Regeneration, Gareth Nutt, gave a short presentation in which he said that the Council had listened to local concerns and that the new Lido would now incorporate spectator facilities in both the sports hall and the swimming pools.
He also promised a gym, weight room, multi-purpose meeting rooms, a café, a crèche, a youth facility, an ICT training room, a library and resource centre, multi-purpose dance studios and conference facilities, enterprise starter units, a car park, a sports hall with viewing gallery, changing rooms, a learner pool and a 25-metre main pool.
But the main pool would remain at six lanes, they said.
“We are still proposing a six-lane pool and our reasons include the two-pool configuration which will give us plenty of flexibility,” said Gareth Nutt. “We have taken on board comments we’ve received about the size of the pool and carried out further analysis of demand and looked at Sports Council models and we have found that six lanes will be more than adequate.”
There followed angry appeals from members of the public about the size of the pool and the other facilities that would be accommodated within the Lido buildings.
Harry Worth of Aberavon Surf Lifesaving Club said: “Please explain to me how you can accommodate people at all times in this swimming pool. We know people have said they weren’t able to use the old pool because there were lessons taking place. In an eight-lane pool with a movable boom you would have flexibility so people could always swim, and you would have an additional revenue stream.”
One local woman, who did not give her name, said: “Why do we have enterprise units? This is supposed to be for leisure. It doesn’t make sense to me – can someone please explain it to me?”
A man who called himself a Sandfields resident received a noisy round of applause when he said: “I thought councillors were elected to represent us. Equally you as council officers are employed by us. But you are not listening to the experts in this room.
“The experts are telling you that they want an eight-lane pool when you are telling us you are going to put a library in when you have spent a fortune on refurbishing the libraries in Morriston Road and the town centre.
“Take out the library and give us the pool we want and we will thank you. I think if you ignore these experts you will be coming down for trouble.”
The Council’s Chief Executive Steve Phillips said: “We do want a facility that everyone will be proud of, but it must be affordable.”
And Russell Ward, Head of Planning and Community Development added: “We want what gives us optimum use of the buildings. Single-use buildings are a thing of the past. Sustainability means getting what is fit-for-purpose, affordable and flexible.”
Steve Phillips also denied there were concrete plans in place for the site of the old Afan Lido, in spite of concerns that it would be sold for housing.
“Nothing has been ruled in or out,” he said. “We will probably take that piece of land to market at some point in the future.”
Concerns were also voiced by local GP Sian Clement, who is also a member of the Aberavon Surf Lifesaving Club, and Phil Scannell, representing the Afan Lido football club, who warned moving the facility would sever generations-old links with the club.
There was also scepticism about the council’s decision to move the Afan Lido and use the ten-pin bowling alley in the designs.
“How will moving the Lido there solve our problems? What’s wrong with where it was before?” asked a local woman.
“We have a problem at Hollywood Park and we are concerned that if we don’t do something soon people will be able to point to those areas as a blight on the area,” said Gareth Nutt.
“What we are trying to do is avoid having a shiny new leisure centre with derelict buildings next to it,” added Steve Phillips.
Though there was anger and many of the audience were still keen to voice their opinions, Steve Phillips drew the meeting to a close after an hour and a half.
“We will listen to what has been said,” he said. “The presentation will be on our website and you can still speak to councillors over the next four weeks.”
Harry Worth accused councillors of keeping silent throughout the meeting, but council leader Ali Thomas said: “I’ve come here to listen to you, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
The consultation remains open until 5pm on 18 July. Comments can be made by hand to any of the Council’s main offices, by post to the Head of Property and Regeneration, Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, The Quays, Brunel Way, Baglan Energy Park, Briton Ferry, Neath, SA11 2GG, or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org