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EUROPA POOLS: Swimming baths in Birkenhead set to reopen

EUROPA POOLS: Swimming baths in Birkenhead set to reopen

Image: LDRS

The fun pool at Birkenhead’s Europa Pools swimming baths is set to reopen on July 19, despite Wirral’s director of public health saying it should remain closed due to the pandemic.

The fun pool has been closed since March of last year due to Covid-19.

In the run up to this year’s Wirral Council budget the option of closing Europa Pools entirely was considered, but it was dismissed after councillors and residents stressed how important it was to them.

Instead, it was decided that the competition pool would reopen, with an option to open the fun pool during the school summer holidays, when the income it generates can support the costs needed to run it.

At tonight’s meeting of Wirral Council’s Tourism and Leisure Committee, councillors were tasked with deciding whether to reopen the fun pool for a seven week period between July 19 and September 5, or keep it closed until next summer.

Julie Webster, Wirral’s director of public health, said that the North West was at the “epicentre” of the recent rise in Covid-19 cases triggered by the highly transmissible ‘Delta’ variant of the virus.

Ms Webster added that she took no pleasure in saying that while the borough was reporting between four and six cases per day in mid-May, there were 77 cases on Monday, June 14.

Given this, Ms Webster advised against reopening Europa Pools’ fun pool this summer.

Despite her advice, the committee narrowly voted to reopen the fun pool on July 19, with six members in favour and five against.

Four Labour councillors and two Liberal Democrats voted in favour of reopening the Birkenhead pool, while four Conservative councillors and the sole Green councillor at the meeting voted against.

Going into the meeting, the main debate was about whether reopening the fun pool would cost the cash-strapped council a significant sum of money.

A council report said that if by July 19 the final stage of the government’s roadmap has begun and social distancing rules have expired, Europa Pools is predicted to make a profit for the authority during the summer period.

Although a Wirral Council report added the caveat that there are no assurances swimmers would return in sufficient numbers or that unforeseen events would not impact on this prediction.

However, if current restrictions are still in place at this point, Wirral Council estimates that the fun pool will lose £30,000 or more.

Another option for the committee was to keep Europa Pools’ fun pool shut until next summer and use the room to extend the gym area at the site.

The local authority’s modelling suggests that the gym could provide a return on investment within six months.

At tonight’s meeting, Andrew McCartan, Wirral Council’s assistant director for leisure, libraries and customer engagement, said this facility could include bikes for spinning classes or running machines, as well as enhancing the existing weights area.

Labour councillor Christine Spriggs said her party was keen to do everything it could to get the fun pool open this summer.

Cllr Spriggs said that for children and young families who enjoy swimming it was important for them to get much-needed leisure time and exercise, but that she did take seriously the health concerns presented at the meeting.

Liberal Democrat councillor Allan Brame said children have had a “wretched time” during the pandemic, with many losing school time and not being able to see their friends.

He added that others had been stuck in flats or houses with no gardens, given this he asked that if all restrictions were lifted by July 19 and the pool can be used then why would the council not open it?

While he took note of the public health advice given, he thought that if the fun pool could be open during the summer period when it makes a profit then it should be open.

The Lib Dem member added the caveat that the reopening would be subject to the July 19 ending of national Covid-19 restrictions.

Not everyone agreed with Cllr Brame.

Green Party councillor Pat Cleary asked for clarification on what would happen if national rules allowed Europa Pools’ fun pool to fully reopen but local public health advice said it should not reopen.

Ms Webster said that if the situation on Covid-19 cases was similar on July 19 to the picture today it would be “really difficult” to open the fun pool.

Cllr Cleary went on to vote against the reopening, as did Conservative councillor Jenny Johnson.

Cllr Johnson said the public health director was giving a steer on the data and that case numbers may still be high by July 19.

Her concern was that the council could end up spending money to prepare the fun pool for reopening and then not be able to reopen it due to the state of the pandemic.

The Tory councillor said this would result in the local authority losing money at a time when costs were tight.

However, by six votes to five the committee voted in favour of reopening Europa Pools’ fun pool from July 19 until September 5 this summer.

Words: George Morgan, Local Democracy Reporter

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