Acton Baths Campaign Gathers Momentum

Minutes for public meeting on October 2nd

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Panel: Eric Shanes (chair)
Jonathan Kirby (Assistant Director, Major Projects, Ealing Council)
Luke Lancaster (Save Acton Baths committee member)

1. Chair's Introduction: Eric introduced the meeting by explaining that a Save Acton Baths committee had been formed and currently comprises Eric plus five volunteers. Others are welcome. At the committee meeting on 17 September, secretarial and press liaison duties were assigned. Committee member Ian Sherman – an architect with top-level experience of building pools and gyms – is tracking down site plans. Ian is also our representative on the Acton Town Hall Regeneration Team ("Regeneration Team") run by Ealing Council.

2. Jonathan Kirby: In his role as assistant director of major projects on Ealing Council, Jonathan explained that he represents users of Acton's library, pool and community centre. He explained: the council's aim is to consult and then develop a design proposal which will be used to invite tenders from developers. Key elements of the Regeneration Team consultation strategy are:

Urban Initiatives to lead workshops and develop broad design principles for the site
Regeneration Team to represent the community of Acton: 30 community organisations, voluntary groups and businesses and nearly 300 Acton residents will be invited to send a representative
Cross-party council involvement on Regeneration Team
Design events scheduled for the Regeneration Team:
o 17 October tour of the Acton site
o 14 November visit to other conservation-led projects
o 18 November workshop to consider design possibilities
Consultation with local schools: January 2010
Public exhibition: mid-year 2010

Issues Discussed:

3. Timescale for decision making: The chairman asked Jonathan Kirby to confirm that the Baths were safe until next year, and JK confirmed that no decisions would be taken until after the public consultation in mid-2010 – a point he reiterated in response to an assertion from the floor that the pools were condemned. He said that the council's aim is to create a modern ibrary, pool and community centre. In response to a later question from the floor, he said there would be strong support from the Regeneration Team for other ("dryside") leisure facilities.

4. Aim of Save Acton Baths: The chairman summarised the history of the redevelopment of the pools since 1990 and stated that the aim of the Save Acton Baths group is the provision of refurbished and upgraded swimming facilities on the Acton Town Hall site.

5. Listing status: In response to a question from the floor, the chairman said that the Acton Town Hall site is not listed, apart from one chimney, which a later commentator from the floor pointed out is not visible and should be de-listed. Luke Lancaster confirmed that the building had been deemed unworthy of listing by English Heritage and that the council is consulting on demolition, apart from the façade on Acton High Street. The speaker said that the campaign to save the Baths merited an appeal fund.

6. Redevelopment should be eye-catching: In response to the proposal to preserve the Town Hall façade on the High Street, it was suggested from the floor that the redeveloped building should be eye-catching, simply because few if any of the many thousands of passers-by driving along Uxbridge Road would have any idea that the current swimming pool even existed.

7. Council must own the site of the redevelopment: Questions from the floor wondered why some sites were being considered for the pools and not others. The panel confirmed that the council must own the land on which the pools are sited in order to be able eventually to sell it to a developer.

8. Scope of current regeneration proposal:

• Demolition of the present building
• 33m pool replaced with 25m pool (8 lanes)
• 25m pool replaced with 16m pool
• Current library converted to retail use
• New library elsewhere on the site
• Community centre becomes flats
• Car park not redeveloped

There was heated response from the floor to the different views held on the panel over the council's current position. For Ealing council, Jonathan Kirby said that this proposal was on the council website because it reflected the council's last position, whereas the council was now open-minded. For the Save Acton Baths committee, Luke Lancaster said that this was still the council's desired outcome. From the floor, Lib Dem councillor John Ball stressed that the present consultation-round is about improving on this proposal, and that the biggest issue for pool users is achieving the right balance between preserving the site and getting the best facilities for swimming. (Note: The proposed pool lengths are the same as those at the Northolt development.)

9. A 50m pool: Luke pointed out that the previous council had determined that Acton should have a 50m pool, and as this decision had been taken in response to a government leisure survey, Ealing council should remain bound by this finding. A 50m pool would be possible on the present site if the car park were included in the redevelopment. The additional cost of £3m would be insignificant in the context of a budget estimated by Jonathan Kirby as likely to be in the region of £25m. However, it was also pointed out from the floor that building on the car park would remove already limited parking, as well as raise issues for residents whose accommodation would be affected. If the car park were to be built on, equivalent new parking space would have to be provided.

10. Earlier proposed sites: Eric Shanes said that a 50m pool had previously been mooted on a Stirling Road site where the council had envisaged a four-floor building including a gym and a rooftop soccer pitch. Because Olympics funding had not been forthcoming, this idea had had to be dropped. It was agreed by several speakers from the floor that this site would have been wholly inappropriate, being more or less a no-go zone, especially after dark. The chairman also referred to the recent Crown Street proposal, which included only a 25m and a 16m pool (again, as at Northolt) and which proposed converting the town hall site into a hotel and shops. Local opposition had scuppered this vision.

11. Competition use of the pool: Two speakers from the floor made the case for pools being competition length – 25m or 50m. The council is building a 25m pool at Northolt. Others felt that meeting competition standards was unimportant. If Acton had a 50m pool, it could be routinely divided into two 25m pools, as at Gurnell, and partially or wholly opened to 50m for recreational or competition use.

12. Refurbishment v Redevelopment: One speaker made a plea for refurbishment as a matter of principle and won some support for her sincerely-held views. The counter-argument was put from the panel that the cost of refurbishment is not significantly less than the cost of redevelopment (around £1,700 per sq m). It was agreed by all present that the current facilities are at the end of their life after their last, £2.5m refurbishment in 1990 and that a decision one way or the other is urgently needed to keep the options open, lest the Baths deteriorate to the point where refurbishment was no longer feasible. While there is no decision, there is no incentive for either the council or GLL to maintain the facilities. The difficulty of refurbishing the pools, in particular, was mentioned. To avoid draining the pools, patching is done by frogmen, but the results of these repairs are visible.

13. Car Park next to the Windmill Pub: There was agreement between the floor and the panel that the council needs a coherent vision for the regeneration of Acton to avoid the creation of any more underused buildings such as the multistorey car park next to the Windmill pub. There was equally strong feeling that any further retail developments should avoid the proliferation of pound shops, as opposed to viable and worthwhile commercial developments.

14. Section 106 funding: From the floor, councillor Kate Crawford (Labour, East Acton ward) said that it was important to ensure that section 106 funding was invested in the Acton site. This is money which a chosen developer pays to a planning authority to offset the impact of the construction work on the local community.

15. Next steps: The chairman summarised next actions:

• The consultations summarised in item 2 above ("Design Events")
• A committee meeting before Christmas
• Another public meeting in the spring

Eric concluded the meeting by extending a repeated invitation for new committee members.

Minutes compiled by Paul Turner



October 13, 2009