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A million pound mistake? Costs revealed as council could REOPEN Bucksburn Swimming Pool

Will Aberdeen City Council backtrack on the closures of Bucksburn pool and six libraries?

The view of the drained Bucksburn pool after its April 2023 closure.
Bucksburn swimming pool has been left high and dry after the council voted to close it, along with six Aberdeen libraries. Image: Imgur

Council chiefs could be poised to perform a staggering million-pound U-turn by bringing Bucksburn Swimming Pool back from the dead.

The suburban leisure facility was mothballed, along with six libraries, in spring as £47m was slashed from Aberdeen’s yearly spending.

But the threat of a potentially embarrassing court defeat prompted city chiefs to pause on fully stripping the buildings down.

Campaigners fighting to save the pool and Cornhill, Cults, Ferryhill, Kaimhill, Northfield and Woodside libraries launched a judicial review of the decision.

Child protestors against the closure of Bucksburn pool with signs reading: "Keep our pool open" and "Save the pool".
Protestors gathered outside an SNP leadership hustings at the Tivoli Theatre to catch the ear of yet-to-be-elected First Minister Humza Yousaf. Image: Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

They claimed the council had failed to properly assess how the closures would impact elderly and disabled people.

In agreeing the legal ceasefire, local authority bosses agreed to look again the impact and to poll those affected on how the closures had changed their lives.

The results have now been revealed.

And bosses point out the “pragmatic” outcome, which resulted in the judicial review being suspended for now, was reached without the council admitting any liability.

Pensioner Kathleen Fowler is among the Bucksburn Swimming Pool users battling to keep it open.
Pensioner Kathleen Fowler was among the Bucksburn Swimming Pool users battling to keep it open. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson

Council chief: ‘Opportunities for improvement’ over Bucksburn pool and library closures

Council property boss Stephen Booth admits these pivotal impact assessments ahead of the closures “could have held more information and narrative”.

Though the local authority has used the same format “for several years,” he accepts it failed to reflect the “many verbal conversations” that were had during the budget-setting process.

A banner, hung outside Bucksburn swimming pool, reads: "Save our pool, save our lives... S.O.S" as protestors rallied against the closure.
Protests outside Bucksburn swimming pool and the six closed libraries were commonplace after the March budget vote. Image: Wullie Marr/DC Thomson

In a report for councillors, he adds the new consultation came about as top officials had “recognised opportunities for improvement”.

The results have emerged ahead of a crunch meeting on the future of Bucksburn pool and the six libraries next week.

Councillors will be given the choice to reinstate the swimming pool, and the six libraries as a separate job lot.

If they do, head-scratching will begin ahead of the budget vote in March with money needed to restore the buildings.

How much would it cost to bring Bucksburn pool and the Aberdeen libraries back into use?

Sport Aberdeen boss Alistair Robertson admitted Bucksburn swimming pool was in need of TLC as he met with local protestors earlier in the year.

Its closure was enforced after his charity, the city’s leisure operator, was handed a £700,000 budget cut.

The P&J obtained images of the husked out building and drained pool in September.

Now council property chief Stephen Booth estimates it would cost between £750,000 and £1m to recommission the pool.

It would take up to nine months, he says.

That means if it’s approved at the budget vote in March, reopening may not be until late 2024 or even early 2025.

What did the public say about the Bucksburn pool closure?

Very nearly 1,000 people took part in the council’s after-the-fact public consultation, a dealbreaker in stopping the court action.

Only 29 of the 987 respondents had not used the pool in the last five years.

Around half used it on a weekly basis, with more than 700 people saying they swam there at least once a month.

Yet 592 people said they had not found another pool to use since the closure, while only 365 had.

Travels issues, scheduling at other facilities and access were cited as the main barriers.

Steps down into the pool at Bucksburn made it one of Aberdeen's more accessible. Image: Save Bucksburn Swimming Pool
Steps down into the pool at Bucksburn made it one of Aberdeen’s more accessible. Image: Save Bucksburn Swimming Pool/Imgur

Losing the gradual stair entry at Bucksburn proved a stumbling point for others looking to move, as it helps disabled swimmers ease themselves into the water.

The council has said similar access is being made available at Sport Aberdeen’s Northfield pool instead.

It’s one of five alternative city-run pools, though there is also public access to the aquatics centre at Aberdeen Sports Village too.

The million-pound mistake? Cost of reopening Bucksburn swimming pool laid bare

Mr Booth tells councillors a complete review of the mechanical and electrical systems is needed.

His report includes a hefty shopping list:

  • Replacement of ventilation plant machinery, automatic controls and associated control panels
  • Reinstalled carbon dioxide for pool chemical dosing (it was removed in the strip-out)
  • Legal testing and servicing
  • New furniture, pool equipment and signs (which were also taken down as Sport Aberdeen left the building)
  • The water filters might need replaced having been dry so long, while Mr Booth says it “may be prudent” to replace the obsolete fire alarm
  • Sport Aberdeen might need to hire staff too

On top of the cost of the above to-do list, which would to be checked off before reopening, it would cost Sport Aberdeen an extra £160,000 to run the centre every year.

Protestors gather outside Woodside library, one of six to be closed by Aberdeen City Council alongside Bucksburn swimming pool.
The cost of undoing the closure of Bucksburn swimming pool and six libraries, including Woodside, has been laid bare. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Having considered the renewed impact assessments, councillors will be asked whether to begin a search for cash to pay for the opening – or to reaffirm the closure – of Bucksburn swimming pool.

And given the political reaction to the council briefing, there’s cause for optimism for campaigners.

What about the six closed Aberdeen libraries?

Despite the closures of Cornhill, Cults, Ferryhill, Kaimhill, Northfield and Woodside libraries, more people visited Aberdeen libraries in-person between April and September than in the same period in 2022.

A 15% rise – 6,419 more visits – resulted in 848 more people using their library membership to borrow items.

But campaigners in their hundreds have made their case for reopening the mothballed six.

The closed Cults Library. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

More than 660 people who had used one of Cornhill, Cults, Ferryhill, Kaimhill, Northfield and Woodside libraries in the last five years took part in the consultation.

They raised the importance and value of libraries for all ages, barriers to access, promotion and demonstration of current physical and online library services, and children and young people’s access to reading and learning activities.

Public input results in ‘no substantive change to impact assessment’

But this huge swathe of lived experience, Mr Booth says, “has not substantively
changed the outcome of the initial impact assessment”.

Rosemary Bramley spoke to us about the closure of Cults Library on one of its final days. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson

“Having considered the levels of impact, understanding personal experiences
and local context, there are a number of mitigations in place as well as
identified intentions to further improve access to and experience of libraries,
learning and community facilities,” he writes.

“There continues to be 10 community libraries, a self-serve library at Old Aberdeen and the four departments within the Central Library that are available for people to access regardless of where in the city they live.”

Children staged a "read-in" at Ferryhill library, one of the six whose closure could be undone by the council. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson
Children staged a “read-in” at Ferryhill library, one of the six closed by the council. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

As many as 575 of the consultation respondents had already made use of these other facilities, the report states.

If the library or pool closures are to be reversed, council chiefs warn the axe will have to fall on other public services.

They appear to be standing by the decisions, and the initial assessments made which informed those making them in March.

To go with story by Ben Hendry. Library project Picture shows; Arya and Jennifer Grassie. Woodside Library. Ben Hendry/DCT Media Date; 22/03/2023

Mr Booth writes: “It is acknowledged that the closure of the six libraries and the pool may have an impact on equality of opportunity for those with certain protected characteristics, namely age, disability, sex, pregnancy and maternity, and children and young people.

“However, mitigations have been identified.”

What happens next for Aberdeen’s closed six libraries?

Like Bucksburn pool, councillors will have the final say on beginning work to reopen all six libraries next Wednesday.

However Cornhill, Cults, Ferryhill, Kaimhill, Northfield and Woodside libraries are being treated as one entity.

The combined cost of recommissioning the partially emptied buildings comes to £128,000. Then the annual running of the six buildings would total £346,000.

That’s before required repairs, including new roofs and windows at some of the mothballed libraries, which is priced at another £320,000.

Protestors fight on to save libraries. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson

And the “all or nothing” choice councillors face has jarred with the Save Aberdeen Libraries campaigners, who also accuse officials of “downplaying” public concern.

A spokesman adds: “While the council’s process has improved in terms of gathering data, the equality impact assessments do appear to downplay several instances where individuals have highlighted how the closures have directly affected them.

“We are also seeing the public voting with its feet to use libraries in the city.

“We continue to call for improved investment in our libraries so that everyone in the city has equitable access to all that this essential public service can provide.”