OLYMPIC gold medallist Beth Tweddle has added her name to an online campaign to keep open Park Road swimming baths - as the deadline looms for people to have their say on cuts to the city's leisure services.
The 140-year-old pool and former wash-house has been earmarked for closure, sparking an outcry among users, many of whom claim they will have to travel on two buses to Wavertree to swim - and that could cost £10, just on fares, for a family of five, they say.
The council is attempting to find savings of £10.5 million in the next three years and the Steble Street baths has been described as “hideously expensive” to run. The entire site could be closed within three years, as could Everton Park Sports Centre which is also under the cuts microscope. Meanwhile the council is proposing operational changes to save money at the Austin Rawlinson centre in Speke.
Last night, however, Dingle residents left a packed a public meeting at the baths slightly more hopeful. Councillors and residents both reported a positive dialogue at the gathering at the centre, and pledged to work together to try to find a third way to keep the facility open for the community. Although it is far from out of the waters yet.
Three out of four children in the Dingle are obese, say campaigners, and the area remains one of the poorest in the UK. They argue that the council needs to “get its priorities right” and put health and wellbeing before big bangs and fireworks.
Beth Tweddle: SupportiveIan Astley, founder member of the group and volunteer coach for youth, and disability sports activities, says: “We understand that the council are being forced to make cuts across the board and we know that the city is faced with some very difficult decisions.
"But if we are looking at closing a facility like this, in an area that is among the most deprived in the country, then surely we need to get our priorities right? Our group have requested figures from the council on how much other events and services cost, for example- the annual fireworks and similar events, but we have not yet received an answer.
"Surely a facility offering swimming, fitness training, health and wellbeing classes, football and other sports activities, pre-school fitness fun and world class gymnastics training takes priority over a big bang that’s over in half an hour?"
Spokesman Lucy Dossor added that despite posting a annual £450k shortfall in running costs, the pool is growing in popularity.
“Since the closure of Toxteth Sports Centre, attendances at Park Road have been rising year on year,” she said.
“Local schools, disabled groups and ethnic minority groups, as well as many other community groups, use the facility for swimming lessons, exercise and recreation. Pre-school and school age activity sessions are incredibly popular, not to mention the internationally recognised gymnastics programme that has produced so many champions, Beth Tweddle among them.”
She added: “Anyone with any sense and humanity can see that there has to be a way found to keep this facility open.”
The working mum-of-three is now calling for individuals in the community to join a working party to help make it happen.
“At the end of last night's meeting, where so many strong points were made and so many good ideas for how to avoid closure were thrown up, we asked the council to collaborate with us on a working party to discuss options and possible ways forward for the threatened services," she said.
“They kept saying how keen they were to work with the community and user groups, so now we must take them at their word and push for some detailed discussions about other income streams and community takeover options.”
Steve MunbyA hard-copy petition of 2,890 signatures was handed into the council after news of the plans broke earlier this year. Now campaigners are coordinating their activities via a Facebook group to which Tweddle was one of the first people to sign up to.
As the Friday May 30 deadline looms for people to have their say on the cost-cutting proposal, the council is calling on the public to have their say by filling out a questionnaire giving their views, and says it will welcome suggestions of what people would like to see in the local area to reduce the impact of the potential closures.
Councillor Steve Munby, executive member for neighbourhoods, who was at last night's meeting, said: "Park Road baths in Steble Street is a part of Liverpool's history. The challenge is to see if it has a future. A number of things make it special and attractive for certain groups - the small size, the steps, the easy access from cubicles.
He added: “At the same time it's horribly expensive to run. At last night's meeting we got a clear commitment to look at a community transfer. The challenge now is to try to find a way to make it work. The building needs investment and given its history the obvious organisation to approach is the Heritage Lottery Fund.
“We need to find ways to cut the cost of water loss, heating and promote greater use. If we can put together a working proposal for community transfer I think it's likely the building would still have to close for a period to allow repairs. There's a lot to do if the baths are top be saved but as councillors we're committed to working with user groups to try to put together something that works.”
Liverpool Confidential asked Beth Tweddle for a comment, but so far she's not replied.