Yearsley Pool ‘could be sunk by community stadium contract’

4 Feb 2015 @ 8.13 pm
| News, Politics
Yearsley Pool: future in balance. Photograph: YouTube

York’s largest swimming pool could be sunk by the legal contract drawn up for the city’s new community stadium.

That’s the claim of Keith Aspden, Lib Dem leader on York council.

Key pool points

The council plans to withdraw the yearly £250K subsidy to Yearsley Pool

6,600 people signed a petition to save the pool

Last month the council agreed to review the pool’s future

Last year the council announced that Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) would run York Community Stadium and the attached leisure complex, which includes a pool.

The Labour-controlled council is due to sign a contract in May which would see GLL run the stadium as well as Yearsley pool and the Energise sports centre.

GLL may yet decide against taking over Yearsley pool. If that were the case, the council has said it would consider allowing the pool to be run by community-led managers.

But Cllr Aspden says that an “anti competition” clause in the stadium contract would enable GLL to claim the community-led Yearsley Pool was now its competitor, renegotiate its contract and claim compensation.

The contract clause states:

The Leisure Management Contract will assume that from the opening of the New Stadium Leisure Centre, Yearsley Pool will not be funded or sponsored by the Council in any way. This means that any subsidy required by a community led solution for Yearsley from the Council would be likely to trigger an increased payment to GLL in respect of the other facilities.

Cllr Aspden said:

This ‘anti-competition’ clause casts fresh doubt over the future of Yearsley Pool.

Labour is planning to cut funding for Yearsley and had indicated they would look at community-led options if GLL withdrew.

However, these community options could trigger a claim for compensation from GLL and make any community proposal uneconomic.

He described the situation as “a mess and shows the dangers of the Labour council making agreements behind-closed-doors without any public or opposition scrutiny”.

A spokesperson for the Labour group said they couldn’t comment “at risk of jeopardising the contract and breaching confidentiality”.

This is what a spokesperson for City of York Council told us:

The wording quoted was deliberately provided to stakeholders as the standard wording used in any leisure facilities contract, to ensure an open and transparent review process.

Officers have held the first of a series of meetings as part of the review agreed at Cabinet in September, to give stakeholders the correct background so that valuable feedback can be gained, which will inform the process.

Commercial negotiations are still ongoing, so no agreement has yet been finalised and we are not in a position to comment further at this stage.

The first ‘Yearsley Pool Review’ meeting took place on Friday, January 30 at New Earswick Folk Hall. Among those attending were representatives of City of Yorks Baths Club, New Earswick Swimming Club, Aquatics Forum and the Amateur Swimming Association.

Also there were the Yearsley Pool manager and York Outer MP Julian Sturdy. The council spokesperson said the Yearsley Pool Action Group declined their invitation.

The action group view

It was the sharp eyes of the Yearsley Pool Action Group which spotted the clause and drew it to the attention of Cllr Keith Aspden as he is taking the lead on the scrutiny review.

Fiona Evans, of the action group, said that campaigners are concerned that this clause “could have serious implications, not only for the scope of the scrutiny review, but for future negotiations and options for Yearsley Pool and the council itself”.

She added:

One of the worst aspects from our point of view, is that if GLL decides not to operate the pool, which is highly likely, it would appear to call into question any council subsidised option following the election.

Depending on how binding and restrictive the clause is, the democratic process itself could be overridden, as the ability of a new council to change the political approach to Yearsley Pool could be severely limited.

If an option to secure the future of the pool was proposed, it is potentially possible that the council would also have to compensate GLL, rendering any financial lifeline to Yearsley uneconomic.

Fiona said that this reinforces the need for a process subject to public and cross party scrutiny, “which is why the action group declined the invitation to attend the council’s review meeting.

“We want to ensure that the scrutiny review that we have worked hard for is not undermined by this separate process.”

She added:

Having being misled by promises that we accepted in good faith from leading politicians with the procurement process, we want to ensure that there is no repetition of that approach.

The contract and entire process leading up to it needs examining before a potentially huge mistake is made. This has implications not only the future of Yearsley Pool and swimming provision, but for the City of York itself.