Is the Council Running Rings Round Neptune?

logo: Save Our Baths Manchester City Council announced their plans to close the popular swimming facility Neptune's Kingdom (also known as "Gorton Tub", the name under which the pool opened) and Miles Platting pool late last year. The Council plan to close Gorton Tub at the end of March.

The council say that they want to "provide more sport and recreation opportunities for more people, more strategically and more cost effectively". In reality the attempt to close of Gorton Tub is a cost-cutting measure. The Council aims to save £150,000 by shutting Gorton Tub and Miles Platting pools, according to their own budget document. Futuremore, the council say that they want to convert Gorton Tub into a "dry leisure" facility, possibly gymnastics, whereas they are investigating moving an existing gymnastics centre to the tub.

photo: entrance to The Tub The Council says that they cannot afford to keep the tub open, but the savings they anticipate are a tiny fraction of the money being spent on the Commonwealth Games only a short distance away.

Gorton Mum Lynda Shentall said, "I have used the Tub regularly now for 6 years. I take my children swimming once a week and use the aquafit myself. My little boy has asthma so swimming is partic-ularly good for his health. If the Tub closes I won't be able to take him swimming. There isn't much in Gorton, the Council must keep the Tub open."

The Tub is unique in having sloping "beach" access to the water. This means that people with disabilities or mobility problems find it easy to get into the pool whereas other pools in Manchester are completely inaccessible.

Over 50s swimmer Kenneth Wych said, "My wife, who regrettably is disabled, and I use the Gorton Tub facilities extensively. Last Tuesday, there were 66 people from the 50s swimming group using the venue. This pool is accessible to people for whom professional medical experts recommend exercise. It is of paramount importance that this is retained."

In January, over 120 people braved pouring rain to pack out a public meeting against the closure in St James Church Hall, Gorton. The meeting was chaired by Tony Martin, and the speakers were: Jackie Pearcey (local Lib Dem councillor, opposing the closure), Councillor Glynn Evans (council Executive Member for Leisure and Culture), Jim Byrne (Director of Leisure Services), Eamonn O'Rourke (Leisure Development Officer), and regular locals, Kenneth Wych and Lynda Shentall. Gerald Kaufman MP was unable to attend the meeting, but sent a representative.

The meeting heard that the Council believe that the cost of the pool is too high, and they presented statistics to back up their case, which were challenged by users of the pool. Users of the pool pointed out that the Council included in their calculation of the use of the pool a period of over 3 months when the pool was actually shut for repairs! This period had also been included in calculating the "subsidy per user" on which the council have based their decision.

The users of the pool asked why the Council wouldn't consider extending the facilities at the pool to attract more users, such as adding a weights room and a sauna, extending opening hours, or promoting the facilities, but the Council representatives seemed unwilling to consider any option that didn't involve closing the pool.

Many of the users of the pool echoed the points made by Kenneth Wych that the Tub was the only pool in Manchester accessible to users who cannot use stairs. A physiotherapist backed up his point, as he often encouraged patients to use the pool, which provides health benefits for many conditions.

photo of meeting
The Council representatives infuriated the audience by saying that they hadn't heard anything during the meeting to change their minds. The audience left the meeting pledged to keep up the fight to save the pool. The campaign plans to lobby Gerald Kaufman for his support for the campaign, and to lobby the full council on Wednesday 7 February.

Thousands have already signed a petition which campaigners plan to hand in at the lobby. Campaign chair, Tony Martin, said: "Gorton people don't want the Tub to close. I've been out talking to people and everyone says the same thing - the health of local people will suffer if the pool shuts. It is a real community facility. No-one understands why the Council want to shut it."

Ian Allinson, Save Gorton Tub

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© Networking Newsletter (Sept 2003)