A statement by Councillor Bob Piper
I have had a lot of phone calls and e-mails over the last few days about this story which appeared in the Express & Star last Thursday, and there has been a lot of comment and speculation on the Bearwood Facebook Page. Much of the concern centres around the suggestion in the story that the new swimming centre would replace existing facilities, particularly those at the Hadley Stadium and Thimblemill Baths.
There have been allegations that we have been disingenuous and dishonest by not announcing this until after the local council elections. So, I would like to set the record straight on that one. The first I knew of this was when the story broke in the newspaper and I started to get phone calls and e-mails from concerned residents, which I am afraid I have not been able to respond to as well as people are entitled to expect from their Ward councillor. Although the Council Leader says that my fellow councillors in Smethwick and Langley have been consulted, I have not been able to confirm that yet, hence the fact I am making this statement in a personal capacity. I have now been promised a briefing on the issue, and I will hopefully be able to provide people with some more information when it is available.
I don’t have a problem with a new swimming facility in Smethwick, and in terms of distance it is only as far to travel to the Harry Mitchell Centre from Bearwood as it is for people there to travel to Thimblemill. My concerns are about capacity and the future use of the building. Replacing both of the existing swimming pools at Langley and Bearwood means we would only have one pool, and when that is being used for ‘swimming galas’ or water polo, or by the clubs that train in the pool, what facilities will exist for ordinary swimmers. Similarly, if the gym facilities are closed at the existing centres, will there be the capacity at a new centre?
But also, what would happen to the building? Thimblemill is a Grade 2 listed art deco building with 2 pools, 3 gym areas, a dance studio with a group fitness programme, and a sauna and steam facility. As Ward councillors and residents we will want to seek some assurances that we are not going to be left with a boarded up building which will attract anti-social behaviour and blight the area.
What we must do is try to ensure that local people are consulted and involved in the decision making processes… before they read in the Express & Star newspaper about decisions that appear to have already been taken!