It is of course possible that the recession will in a strange way help Birmingham City Council to cut the estimated £60million cost of building a 50 metre Olympic size swimming pool.
Council leader Mike Whitby has sensibly ordered quotes for the project to be renegotiated on the assumption that there will be many builders prepared to carry out such a prestige project at a more reasonable rate now than would have been the case three or four months ago.
Coun Whitby and his cabinet colleagues also make a good case for a complete overhaul of Birmingham’s public swimming pools. The city already suffers from the lowest provision per head of population in the West Midlands, particularly in socially deprived areas, something that will only get worse if steps are not taken now to plan for the future.
In terms of imagination and boldness, the first stage of an £84.5million swimming strategy looks exciting. As well as the 50metre pool, refurbishment is proposed for Harborne pool and the Stechford Cascades, to be followed by a second phase that will see provision of three new 25metre pools.
All of this, the vision thing as Coun Whitby would put it, could be fully supported in principle if it were not for one huge unanswered question – where is the money to pay for all of this to come from?
Reports presented to a cabinet meeting yesterday made it clear that less than half of the total cost of implementing the swimming strategy has been identified. There is talk about raising cash by “rationalising inadequate buildings”, yet the cabinet member for leisure insists there are no plans to close swimming pools.
It would be the worst possible outcome if the price to be paid for a 50metre facility was to be the closure of the few community pools that Birmingham does have.