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50-metre pool not viable for Castlebar

Off the fence

50 metre pool not viable for Castlebar Town Council

Edwin McGreal

The furore over the proposed new pool in Castlebar has been intense. On January 3 last Castlebar Town Council voted by five votes to four in favour of going ahead with original plans for a 25 metre pool as part of the €12.5 million National Outdoor Pursuits Academy announced by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny last May.
It has sparked intense debate and campaigning online since. A page has been set up on Facebook called ‘Support an Olympic size 50 metre swimming pool in Castlebar’ and has already gained close to 1,500 ‘likes’.
One of the people who articulated the merits of a 50 metre pool in the submissions stage of the project, Gerry Melly, makes a strong and often stirring argument for the 50 metre pool in last week’s Connaught Telegraph. It would be the first 50 metre pool in Connacht and would bring many visitors to the town, he wrote. He makes a comparison with the fine 50 metre facility in Bangor, Co Down as an example of what could be done.
The nub of the issue is cost and what benefit would come to the town to offset this. What a lot of people arguing for the 50 metre pool don’t seem to appreciate is this - it is quite simply beyond the finances of the town council, almost regardless of the benefit.
A 50 metre pool of basic, non Olympic standard would cost an extra €2 million to build on top of the €12.5 million and an extra €300,000 per year in running costs. Castlebar Town Council will have a budget meeting this Thursday where they will discuss a budget of just over €6 million for all services they are responsible for.
To demonstrate the difficulties, for years there was €3.8 million set aside for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport for a new pool if the council could find matching funding and they struggled to even do that, until last May’s partnership with Mayo County Council and GMIT. Even at that there is currently a considerable shortfall on the €12.5 million 25 metre project.
So it’s clear to see that what is being built at present - the 25 metre pool and other facilities - is a stretch for the council and an ambitious project. A 50 metre pool would be beyond them. That pool in Bangor referred to by Gerry Melly had a £38 million cost and a considerable amount of that came from government coffers and therein lies the rub.
If a 50 metre pool in Castlebar is to be viable at all - and there are strong arguments for either point of view - it would require significant state investment. As things stand any jump to a 50 metre pool would have to be paid for by the already under-pressure businesspeople of the town, through commercial rates. In the current climate that’s definitely not a runner.
You can make arguments for and against significant state investment in a 50 metre pool for Castlebar but what is certain is this - it was well beyond the finances of the town council and it was prudent of them not to proceed with it.