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

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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?

Extra pollution from cars if Jubilee is closed

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I've been doing some calculations on additional carbon emissions that would occur from a rise in car use if the Jubilee Swiming Pool closed.

What I've done is to compare the carbon emissions from walking a short distance, say 1km, to the local pool, with driving say 5km to a new pool when constructed at Hengrove Park, in a medium sized petrol engined car (some will drive further of course). It is reasonable to assume that this shift from walking to driving will happen a lot should Jubilee close, if people want to continue to swim, especially if elderly people or kids are involved .

Basically I've found that walking is between 15 to 30 times more energy efficient per km. Walking to Jubilee would mean carbon emissions of approx 15 grams per visit, which is easily environmentally sustainable. Driving to a new pool at Hengrove would emit 2kg (2000 grams) of carbon ie an environmentally unsustainable 133 times more (due to the longer distance and the much lower efficiency of car travel combined; photo represents the carbon increase to scale).

Carbon emissions from travel of 2kg per visit amounts to approximately a mans own weight in carbon each year if he drives 5km to a pool about once a week! In contrast walking to Jubilee the same number of times produces just 0.75 kg - less than a bag of sugar.

The point of all this is to show that taking a purely financial decision to close the pool is very narrow minded. The preliminary calculations I've done show that locally available services and facilities like swimming pools have a value to our community and wider society beyond money. If we are to become a low carbon 'green city' for instance (and the City Council is currently blowing this particular trumpet loudly!) we need to measure the value of local facilities not only in financial terms but also in social and environmental terms terms. We dont know what the total impact of the loss of Jubilee would be because we aren't measuring everything, yet despite this the council has already decided that the pool will close - not a green decision or a green approach to the issue at all.