Originally published in Bromsgrove Standard – 5 August 2016

This is a diary piece of good news and of bad news.

During the General Election campaign last year, Conservatives in South Birmingham were rushing around claiming that Northfield was going to lose its swimming pool. Their claims were, of course, rubbish, as they well knew. Northfield pool was coming to the end of its life. The issue was not whether it would be replaced but where in the constituency this would happen. I guess they thought why let the facts get in the way when you are trying to win votes.

But the City Council don’t come out of this smelling of roses either. The good news is that they have commissioned a contractor to rebuild and operate the pool. The bad news is that what they are planning to do is well short of what they should be offering. Against my and local Labour Councillors’ advice, they opted to rebuild on the existing site, meaning they would have to close the existing pool while they built a new one. But they said the new one would be worth it. We argued that the space constraints on the existing site would limit what they could do, with the risk that the historic frontage to the building could be lost when people in the area want it retained. They said they would try to retain it.

We now know the result, they say they can’t retain the frontage because (guess what?) space constraints prevent it. Also, while the pool itself will no doubt be better than the last one, they can’t work out how to fit a sauna and steam room in what is meant to be a new state of the art leisure centre.

There were alternatives which could have built a better pool and leisure centre elsewhere in Northfield town centre and save the historic frontage of the current building. Birmingham’s Labour-led council should be commended for investing in a new pool for Northfield – something the Tories never did when they controlled the City. But I have seen for myself what other cities in Europe and beyond can achieve when regenerating public facilities like this. That Birmingham has shown neither the vision nor the creativity to approach the development of Northfield pool in a similar way is a real missed opportunity.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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