A Sleaford school has had its bid for planning permission to build a new swimming pool rejected.
North Kesteven District Councillors voted nine votes to six, with two abstentions to refuse permission for the £3.7m pool and fitness suite complex proposed by St George’s Academy on old tennis courts at its Sleaford site.
The matter was debated for some time and a motion to accept the scheme was voted down nine votes to six before the final decision to go along with officers’ recommendation to refuse.
The pool would have been for use by the school’s own swimming education and sports, as well as being offered to the community for school and club use to fill a perceived gap in the town’s provision as it has no competitive swimming clubs.
Officers were concerned that an extra pool may harm the viability of the town’s community leisure centre pool in the long run by competing with it for users.
NKDC’s chief executive Ian Fytche has tweeted via his social media account just an hour ago: “We have invested £7million at North Kesteven District Council to create award winning centres for sport and physical activity in Sleaford and North Hykeham. Today we will be discussing preparations for new partnership and management arrangements due to be implemented in April.”
A North Kesteven District Council spokesman told The Standard following the decision: “There are no objections to the principle of a school swimming pool at St George’s Academy for the benefit of pupils.
“But the decision by Eastgate Planning Committee to refuse the application was based entirely on clear planning principles.
“The applicant failed to demonstrate sufficient need for such additional facilities in Sleaford and the south of the district. By potentially undermining the viability of existing public facilities they failed to satisfy paragraphs 70 and 73 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) as a sustainable development.
“The NPPF also seeks to ensure existing facilities remain viable for the benefit of the community. As a statutory consultee Sport England identified the need for existing public facilities to be safeguarded via a community use agreement. Without this being in place Sport England’s objection remained and the NPPF was not met; with the proposal threatening the viability of other public facilities.
“Additionally the adopted Central Lincolnshire Local Plan does not identify any capacity for additional leisure and recreation facilities. Again this leaves the application contrary to NPPF’s paragraph 73.”
Wayne Birks, principal at St George’s had told the Standard ahead of the meeting: “My governors and I have worked for several years with officers of NKDC in order to seek agreement about moving forward with plans for a swimming pool. Unfortunately, we have as yet, not been able to find common ground.”
Opting to put it before the elected members he had believed they had a strong case and hoped members would “see the merits of the proposals.”
Following the outcome of the planning meeting, Academy governors are to reconvene to consider feedback from the council and make any further decisions.
Sarah Bentley, Acting Chairman of Sleaford Tri triathlon club said they use the existing town leisure centre facilities but had suported the plans for the St George’s pool.
She said: “The club supported St George’s Academy in this planning application as we felt the pool would be a great asset to the town and to us as a club. We didn’t believe it would affect our regular bookings at Sleaford Leisure Centre, although there is little opportunity to expand our training timetable there due to limited availability.”
Another member of the club, who wished not to be named, told the Standard that it was “a tragedy” for a town of 17,000 to rely on the one indoor, five lane swimming pool for public use.
He said: “Louth have an eight lane pool, Market Deeping have a six lane pool. Boston runs two pools. It is short sighted. there is no competitive club in Sleaford and we cannot get any more pool time, instead we have to train at RAF Cranwell’s pool.”
He questioned how a pool that receives free heating from the power station could not remain viable.
Daniel Killick, the designer of the pool scheme has commented on the decision via The Standard’s Facebook page.
He said: “The swimming pool application has been refused due to Sport England’s holding objection due to lack of signed community use agreement.
“If the document is signed Sport England’s objection goes away and they acknowledge the need for the pool.”
In its present form, he claimed the agreement was impossible for the academy’s governors to sign up to, forcing the delay and eventually going to committee.
He added: “The application has split the committee members and well done to those that spoke up against the refusal and saw this for what it is. A fantastic opportunity to bring a competition facility to Sleaford. Funded by the academy and with a little cooperation from the council and sharing of a small number of classes, lessons, public swimming it would be a sustainable success alongside the leisure centre.
“My two kids would then hopefully be able to get lessons and swim in a pool that isn’t at capacity as the current one is. And that is confirmed in Sport England’s stats. The growing population of Sleaford will only make this worse.
“Hopefully an appeal can be lodged and an independent planning officer can review what has gone on over the duration of this application. And just for the record to the committee, a cafe was mentioned on four occasions last night. The pool has no cafe, I should know as I designed it. Good luck to the academy and the Sleaford public. Let’s hope we get the pool!”