Upset over loss of diving pool at new Eastbourne leisure centre

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Concerns have been raised at the loss of the diving pool in plans to rebuild a leisure centre to replace the Sovereign centre in Eastbourne.

Earlier this month Eastbourne Borough Council approved outline plans for a new multi-million pound state-of-the-art leisure centre to be built and in the pipeline is a 130 station gym, a six lane pool, a gala pool, learner pool, a trampoline centre, a FlowRider with artificial waves, a climbing wall, soft play and cafe along with offices and studio spaces.

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Also included in the £24.2 million project is a plan to replace the seafront skatepark which was closed suddenly earlier this year amid safety concerns.

The council says that rather than spending millions of pounds revamping the Sovereign Centre, the authority wants to spend the money instead on a new building with a 40-year lifespan.

The council stills subsidises the centre to the tune of £340,000 each year and with the current leases and contracts due to expire in 2019, the authority says it was time to make a choice between rebuilding or revamping.

The plans were rubber stamped at a meeting of the council’s cabinet committee on December 13 when Eastbourne council leader David Tutt said the centre was “looking tired” and the town needed something “new and sparkling” to replace it.

Sovereign Centre,  Eastbourne (Photo by Jon Rigby) SUS-161123-082349008

Sovereign Centre, Eastbourne (Photo by Jon Rigby) SUS-161123-082349008

But while the vast majority of people have welcomed the scheme – which will see the new facility built in the car park next to the Sovereign Centre and then the original building demolished – there are growing calls for the council to provide the town with a facility for swimming competition as well as community use.

The scheme’s biggest critics are the Eastbourne Leisure Trust, which has run the centre on behalf of the council since 2004, and Eastbourne Swimming Club’s diving section.

The trust says it is very supportive of the proposed redevelopment of the ageing centre in principle but has challenged design aspects of the new centre saying it must encompass competitive sport as well as a leisure facility suitable for residents and visitors alike.

Hugh Graham, the chair of the Eastbourne Leisure Trust, said this week councillors should think competitive sport as well as leisure sport.

“Forty years ago councillors made the wrong decision about the size of the main pool,” he said.

“We want to avoid a repeat of that mistake and instead provide the town with a facility for competition as well as community use.

“We urge councillors to approve the concept of a new Sovereign Centre but to request that the project team behind it make modifications to the internal design that will do just that.”

The council has said the views of groups that use the Sovereign Centre will be considered as the design of the new complex is developed during 2017.

But Eastbourne Swimming Club and its dive section say they have not been consulted and are dismayed that a diving pool – estimated to cost in the region of £400,000 – is not included in the new building.

Tony Gaskell has been teaching diving at the centre for seven years and said a dive pool with a raised floor would be dual purpose.

“Yes diving is a minority sport but it is a fantastic sport and we have some real talent within the club who are winning championships all over the country,” he said.

“The next Tom Daley or Olympic swimming needs to come from somewhere so why not Eastbourne?”

The mothers of the divers are also upset. Emma Gardner, whose children Lewis and Scarlett have been diving since they were six years old and regularly win competitions, said, “I can’t believe it is looking like we are going to lose another diving pool in Sussex.

“It is such a shame. Diving has become so popular and there are very few diving pools around. We really thought that in light of the Olympics and how much you see in the media about remaining active we might enjoy more up to date diving facilities.

“Tony Gaskell pours his heart and soul into his divers and it would be such a shame for all our divers who are all coming on so well if we are not able to continue.”

The Sussex County ASA Diving honorary secretary David Rosen also believes diving facilities should be in the rebuilt centre.

“To make this into a worthwhile project, diving facilities should be constructed as, since the two recent Olympic games, this sport has been part of a surge of interest by the public.

“It should be available to many more participants who have been inspired to participate in diving.

“I would like to urge Eastbourne planners to look ahead as it is not only a centre for light recreation but with a sports hall where trampolines could be set up and support training in a diving facility. Short courses could be offered in both sports. There is money to be made,

“Losing diving in Eastbourne means there is none in East Sussex and it must be said will greatly affect the county ASA’s competitions.

“I am sad that I have to make a plea to get what should be given to the public as a matter of course, and it may not be forthcoming.”

Eastbourne council leader Mr Tutt said people who use the centre will be consulted as the project moves on.

“The new swimming and leisure complex is hugely exciting for residents and the vast majority of the feedback we’ve received reflects a growing sense of anticipation,” said Mr Tutt.

“The council has already made it clear that the views of groups that use the Sovereign Centre will be considered as the design of the new complex is developed during 2017.

“The brief to the design team was to create a high profile centre next to the existing site which both serves the needs of our growing population and provides a new destination, to build on our already ambitious plans for the town’s economic regeneration, of a robust design, with a minimum 40- year life, and to integrate into the design, where possible, links with the seafront promenade to reinforce the council’s strategy for improving the visitor offer east of the pier.”

The next step will see the council look for an operator to the run the new building with construction starting next year and when the new centre is up and running, the Sovereign Centre will finally be razed to the ground.