Is it time to put our efforts into a new baths for Haslingden?
TWICE in the last two weeks in the Free Press, I’ve read comments by people suggesting it’s time for a rethink on the future of Haslingden Baths.
To many, the biggest error made by the current Labour administration at Rossendale Council was closing Haslingden Pool several years ago.
They cited government budget cuts at the time, but few in Haslingden have forgotten that the money was available to build a new pool in Haslingden.
The Labour council chose to instead spend that money on buying the Valley Centre in Rawtenstall, paving the way for much-needed regeneration.
Rawtenstall’s gain was most certainly Haslingden’s loss, and four years on, it feels as though the likelihood of the old pool re-opening is as far off as it ever was, despite the incredible hard work of various community groups which the council says it has been supporting.
There is, in theory, another £100,000 on the table from the council to support the community group trying to get the pool re-opened, but only if they at least match that money from other sources.
Hindsight is of course a wonderful thing, but given Rossendale Council had given up on the old building a few years ago, and even got the loan to fund a new pool, perhaps trying to keep the old pool going was always going to be an unrealistic task.
It’s certainly the view of Annabel Shipley, the leader of the Tories on Rossendale Council, who wrote in her column a fortnight ago: “I distinctly remember Coun [Alyson] Barnes say quote ‘There will always be a pool in Haslingden when I’m on the council’ unquote.
“The Conservatives believe the time has come to set sentiment aside as difficult as it is, to redevelop this brown belt site and with the monies raised from this being ringfenced to make provisions for a new pool to be built at the sports centre which will benefit everyone in years to come.”
It’s not the first time I’ve seen that quote attributed to Coun Barnes, as it was quoted by one of the community groups at the time of the pool closure.
But that was four years ago - and surely the challenge for Labour now is to work with the Tories and take their counterproposal seriously.
Then last week, Chris Brown, a volunteer who was part of the early efforts to save the pool, wrote in the Free Press letters page that the council should go back to plan A - ie build a new pool - making the most of the fact it’s never been cheaper to borrow money as a council.
Done right, it could be an investment in the future of the area.
Councils across the country are investing in property to help protect their income for the future.
What could the council build alongside a pool to provide for the future of the area?
The decision to close Haslingden pool was a bad one, albeit with good motives behind it.
Labour felt it had to choose between a new pool and spending money to finally solve Rawtenstall’s Valley Centre problem.
Four years on, maybe it really is time to look again and work out how the area gets to have its cake and eat it.
The Tory proposal is a good starting point.
●● Despite a sterling effort by the community Haslingden Baths remains closed. Is it time to scrap the idea of reopening the baths? Below: Money for a new pool was diverted to Rawtenstall