Doubts over pool dream

I REALLY, really hope the ambitious proposals for a new swimming centre in Portman Road in Ipswich go ahead.I'd love to use the 50-metre pool and relax in the Jacuzzi.

I REALLY, really hope the ambitious proposals for a new swimming centre in Portman Road in Ipswich go ahead.

I'd love to use the 50-metre pool and relax in the Jacuzzi.

So the last thing I want to do is sound like Eeyore, but I have real concerns about the great deal that was unveiled last week. Do the figures add up?

The amount that has been quoted for a new indoor 50-metre swimming pool with a 20-metre pool and Jacuzzi centre is £14 million.

That sounds suspiciously low. The new Norwich Riverside pool, a fairly simple 25-metre pool the same size as that at Crown Pools, cost £5.7 million when it opened two years ago.

Will a far more advanced pool be completed for just over twice this amount, especially when the effects of inflation are considered?

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And if we accept that the complex can be built for £14 million, where is the money going to come from?

I know they are in different pots of money, but it is a bit ironic that councillors who cannot afford £14,000 to run a café at Crown Pools is now talking about spending £14 million on a new pool complex!

The council says it will sell off part of its land in Portman Road for a hotel - but it also wants to build a multi-storey car park on the site.

It also wants to sell off its sites in Crown Street for retail and another brand new multi-storey car park.

I remain far from convinced that it will be as easy to sell these sites as the borough seems to think.

Retailing in Ipswich is hardly booming at present - two of the largest stores in the town centre are currently closed and the Mint Quarter has been on the drawing board for more than 15 years and still there are no firm plans for its development.

As well as the Mint Quarter there is also the Civic Centre site which should be redeveloped for shops. Where are all these stores desperate to move into the Mint Quarter, Civic Centre and now Crown Street but don't want to go to the Buttermarket or Tower Ramparts?

We're told that the leisure centre can be built alongside the new hotel that will go on the Portman Road site.

Ipswich is currently short of hotels - but is there really the demand for two (or possibly three) new hotels on the St Peter's Port site in Star Lane, a new hotel as part of the Cranfields development, a new hotel on the site of the Ipswich Village car park, and a new hotel on the Portman Road site - all within the space of a couple of years?

Leaving the money and demand to one side, I have another concern. What happens to Crown Pools and the Crown car park in the meantime.

I know the idea is to leave them open until the new facilities are ready. But what happens if there is a major problem at either of them?

What happens if the boiler at the pool goes bang and needs £100,000 to get it going again? Are we going to hear: “There's no point in repairing it, we're going to pull it all down in a couple of years anyway.”

Norwich was left without a swimming pool for years because its main pool complex needed hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on it and councillors felt it wasn't worth doing the work with plans for a new centre on the drawing board.

The pool closed but it was several years before the replacement opened. Could that happen in Ipswich?

I know that could be an argument against any new development to replace an existing facility - but it is certainly something people should be aware of before getting too enthusiastic about the new proposals.

My last reason for being suspicious about this proposal is that many of those now on the executive have always been anti-Crown Pools.

The Conservatives didn't want it built in the first place and despite its popularity over the years I've often heard sniping about it. Most recently I've been told: “Of course, it was out of date before it was opened.”

Strangely that was not an argument I ever heard from any officer or councillor before the current administration took over in 2004.

As I said at the start, I really hope the new Portman Road swimming centre opens in 2008.

If its doors open, even on December 31 that year, I'll be first in the queue with my swimming trunks wrapped up in a towel - and I'd love to swim the first 50-metre length.

But I'm not putting the date in my diary just yet!

CAN Ruth Kelly survive the pervert teacher scandal? I really don't know - but her position is bound to be seriously damaged.

But while it seems astonishing that anyone with indecency convictions can get any job working with children, I do wonder whether the whole issue is being wrapped up in hysteria.

There are apparently only a handful of teachers with such convictions across the country - but there is now such a frenzy stirred up about this that reading and hearing some reports you could be forgiven for thinking that everyone who has ever applied for a teaching job has an unhealthy interest in children.

And it does worry me that this whole situation is being engineered by people who, for their own ends, seem keen to put down the teaching profession as a whole.

We have to remember that the number of people involved with children who have an indecency conviction is incredibly small - and we are reassured there are none at all in Suffolk.