Does the town need another swimming pool?

Governors at St George’s Academy in Sleaford will meet to decide their next step after losing their bid for approval by NKDC’s planning sub-committee for their £3.7m pool and fitness suite scheme.

Principal of the academy Wayne Birks said he had tried to explain to councillors that the Community Use Agreement for the pool insisted upon by council officers in order for Sport England to withdraw its statutory objection was impossibly restrictive.

Mr Birks told the Standard: “Their (NKDC) proposal would need us to seek permission from the council in writing on any occasion where we wanted to allow public use of the pool and we would be required to provide a financial bond to guarantee our compliance.

“By limiting public use in this way, the council’s conditions would compromise the financial viability of the pool and as an academy, we are legally prohibited from providing any form of financial bond.

“As a result, we were unable to conclude a Community Use Agreement and our inability to do so then formed one of the central reasons for the council to refuse planning permission. The officers of the council also suggested that St George’s proposal contravened the National Planning Policy Framework, but my understanding is that this guidance is designed to protect sports facilities from commercial and residential development. I don’t think it is designed to protect the development of sports facilities from other sports facilities.”

He believed there is a clear need for the St George’s pool for education and community use and the governors will meet to decide a way forward.

A NKDC spokesman explained: “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.”

These included failing to demonstrate sufficient need for such additional facilities in Sleaford and the south of the district as a sustainable development.

He stated: “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, 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.”

Just days after the meeting district councillors for Sleaford Steve Clegg and Mark Suffield both Tweeted a picture of a notice at Sleaford Leisure Centre showing a different story, warning customers that they may be in for an hour’s wait at the busy pool.

Coun Clegg told The Standard that such oversubscription happens quite regularly and questioned why the extra hundreds of houses planned for the town were not being taken into account.

“It is very much a loss for Sleaford,” he said. “I am optimistic there will be a future application by the school and in the interim both sides will be able to look at the terms to come to a compromise to protect tax payers’ money and enables the school to run their facility without incurring a loss.”

Sarah Bentley, Acting Chairman of Sleaford Tri triathlon club 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.”