Monday, March 19, 2007

Private finance companies should not be able to dictate policy. Measure local service value in social and environmental as well as financial terms

Councillor Simon Cook's response to my point that closing Jubilee Pool would raise carbon emissions due to the additional car journeys caused well illustrates the 'warped logic' of Bristol City Council's Lib-Dem Cabinet decison making ('Pool closure will harm our environment', Bristol Evening Post, March 19). We are not going to become the UK's leading 'green city', the professed aim of the council, if we dont start measuring the value of local facilities in social and environmental as well as financial terms.

He says that '...the private finance company funding the scheme (for a new leisure complex with Hengrove Park) would only provide the cash if Bishopsworth and Jubilee pool closed because it does not want competition'. So, far from deciding to close Jubilee Pool because it is not viable, the closure decision seems to have been taken in order to guarantee that any new pool is making a big, fat profit for private investors! What a stitch-up! This is effectively putting private profit making before the availability of more local facilities and thus local quality of life. Why should a private finance company be allowed to shape policy in this way?

Councillor Cook acknowledged that I have a point about carbon emissions but then said '...the pool in Hengrove will still be walkable from Knowle'. It takes me ten minutes to walk to Jubilee and would take me forty minutes to get to Hengrove Park. Whilst this might be viable for me, provided I had the time, it is far less practical for the elderly and for those with a few young kids. He in any case should know very well that by extending the distance to a pool the chances of people turning to a car rise significantly. His idea of what is local and mine are obviously very different and he seems not to mind making it more difficult for the older and younger members of the community and their families to get to a health and fitness facility. What counts, it seems is that private investors can make a profit - my goodness the private finance initiative has a lot to answer for.

Councillor Cook says '...these pools do not make money'. Were the pools built in Bristol to make money or were they intended as places to promote healthy, active lifestyles, as a public service for the public good? If we are to apply his logic to all council services then what will be next in line for closure as not profit making, public libraries perhaps, or schools?

In a pretty desperate attempt to give the proposed Hengrove Leisure Centre, which will be built on open, green space by the way, a greener gloss, he says, rather vaguely, 'We will also try to build in some sustainable technology - maybe having some solar panels on the top, or a wind turbine'. I get the distinct impression from his vagueness that these features have not so far been integral to any plans, though I will track his progress towards doing these things with some interest. He should note though that pools like Jubilee are themselves possible candidates for renewable energy or fuel use and while he is in 'green' mode what about a decent bus service to any new pool?

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