CHARD NEWS: Community taking on Cresta would be a challenge – but possible

CHARD NEWS: Community taking on Cresta would be a challenge – but possible

CHARD residents could buy the town’s swimming pool for £1 if the county council accepts that they have a good enough business case to run it.

Somerset County Council announced on July 11 that it was intending to close the Cresta leisure centre on Zembard Lane in September, arguing that it could no longer afford to maintain it.

The council said that it was willing to look at “any  realistic community-led proposals” which could keep the facility open after the school summer holidays were over.

More than 100 residents turned out to a public meeting held at St Mary’s Church in Chard on Thursday evening (August 9) to discuss the issue.

They voted unanimously that they would try to save the pool through fundraising and volunteering – and to keep it open even if the district council can provide the town with a new one in the future.

Chard’s county councillor Amanda Broom began by updating residents on a meeting she had held with the council on Monday (August 6) to discuss the prospect of the community taking over the running of the pool.

The council said: “We have welcomed the suggestion [of the community taking over the pool] and are willing to provide some time to enable an expression of interest to be submitted, a business plan to be developed, and to enable the community to establish a legal entity to which the asset can be transferred.

“Timelines for the next steps were discussed and agreed, and we look forward to receiving an expression of interest from the community by August 31.”

Cllr Broom said that if the expression of interest was submitted, the council had committed to selling the pool to the community for £1, and would transfer the facility to the community on September 4.

A business plan for running the pool would have to be submitted by September 14.

If the facility was “mothballed”, the pool would be emptied and the pumps would be switched off – incurring an extra cost to the community if they were able to reopen it.

Cllr Broom added: “User numbers have been established, and these are being drawn into a business plan. This will need to be verified by the council to show that the pool can be supported by the community.

“If Chard wants to keep the pool operational, there is absolutely no reason (that is known) why this cannot be a reality. But money will need to be raised and volunteers found who will be committed to seeing this happen.

“Although it is challenging, it is possible.”

The county council has said that it intends to take a decision on the pool’s future on August 29, the wording of which would reflect the possibility of a community solution coming forward.

However, this decision – which would be taken by the relevant portfolio holders – would also commit to the “permanent decommissioning” of the pool in January if the business plan was not deemed to be viable.

Cllr Frances Nicholson, the cabinet member for children and families, was unable to attend the meeting in person, but said that an impact assessment would be done to see what capacity was available at Crewkerne, Axminster and other pools in the area.

The council estimates that it would cost £750,000 to carry out “the most necessary works” on the pool – a figure which Ms Broom said would be verified by an independent expert.

Hannah Williams, who has worked at the pool for 15 years, said: “The figures are for a whole-scale refurbishment – don’t be scared by that.”

After an hour of discussion, the residents voted unanimously in favour of saving the pool and queued up to put their names down to help out with fundraising, volunteering or offering expertise.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Daniel Mumby.