Council leader says selling hydro pool site for development rather than fixing facility would reduce costs and increase premium received

"If we were to sell the site for development purposes only, the costs would be much reduced and the premium received likely higher.”

By Stephen Briggs
Saturday, 14th May 2022, 7:00 am

Peterborough City Council leader Wayne Fitzgerald has said selling the St George’s Hydrotherapy Pool site for development would reduce costs and increase the premium received – after negotiations to sell the site to a physiotherapist fell through..

As exclusively revealed by the Peterborough Telegraph, the council had been in discussions to sell the pool to businessman and physiotherapist Ranjith Mahamani for more than a year before the plug was pulled on the sale last month.

Mr Mahamani even said he had expected the sale to go through at the end of April. The council said the facility – which has been closed since March 2020, initially as a result of COVID, would now be mothballed, with plans for neighbouring Heltwate Special School to use the site as the number of pupils at the school increases.

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Cllr Fitzgerald has provided a number of answers regarding the sale of the St George's Hydrotherapy Pool

The councillors called for answers to come before last week’s elections – but now answers have been provided.

How much would work to fix pool cost ahead of sale?

Cllr Fitzgerald said between £70,000 and £100,000 worth of work was needed to make the sale go ahead.

He said: “If we were to sell the site for development purposes only, the costs would be much reduced and the premium received likely higher.”

Earlier this month the head teacher of Heltwate School said the school was interested in taking over the building.

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Heltwate School confirm they want Hydrotherapy Pool space in letter to council

When was advice to pull plug on sale given to council leader?

When asked at what point the sale process was stopped, cllr Fitzgerald said: “The advice not to sell the facility was conveyed to me by officers in early April 2022,

following a review of the financial benefits weighed against the investment needed to bring it up to the required standard.”

He added: “The final costs were not fully realised until early April, when evaluations were received setting out the full details of the works required. These were far more extensive than expected (70 to 100K). This, considered with a heavily discounted sale price, made the decision to sell financially unviable. Additional to this, we received new information from Heltwate school that impacted on the decision.”

Cllr Fitzgerald said talks with Dr Modha began on April 6, saying he had no prior knowledge of his proposals before then.

What work needed doing?

When the sale collapsed, the council said a lot of work needed to be done to get the facility up to standard.

Cllr Fitzgerald said; “The costs of preparing the site for sale escalated considerably from the original estimate.

"The site is far more complex than first thought and needed detailed surveys to confirm the final costs.

"Secondly, the School confirmed an interest in using the space for educational purposes. It also became known that the school may relocate in future years and therefore

the entire site could be sold at a higher premium if we were to retain and value it as a whole.”

The opposition councillors asked for conformation on those works. Cllr Fitzgerald said the work included:

decommissioning the cold-water storage tank and replacing it with a new mains fed calorifier various installations and relocations of utility meters and sub meters replacing the air handling unit replacing the fire panel with a system that is separated from the school replacing a fire exit point and windows, and installing mechanical ventilation, as a result of the extension planned by the purchaser

Cllr Fitzgerald also said confirmed the running costs of the pool, should it have remained open, would have increased.

He said: “The annual operating costs were just below 50K prior to the COVID closure. With rising utilities this is now estimated to be between 60K – 70K per annum.”

Can council guarantee new pool will open – and be open to members of the public?

Cllr Fitzgerald said an update on Dr Modha’s plans would be available soon – but no guarantees were available.

When asked ‘How can we be certain this new pool will be provided?’ Cllr Fitzgerald said: “We cannot guarantee as a council this will be the case. However, we believe Dr Modha is serious about building a new hydrotherapy pool and associated health facility, and that an application for planning is imminent.”

What should hydro pool users do while plans for new facility moves forward?

Cllr Fitzgerald was asked what users of St George’s Pool should do now the facility has been permanently closed, and Dr Modha’s plans have not yet been finalised.

He said: “The pool has been closed since March 2020 and is effectively already mothballed, and users have presumably sought alternative venues.

“It should be noted by all that it is unusual for Hydrotherapy pools to be funded by Local Authorities. Elsewhere facilities are the responsibility of the health trust or of commercial providers.

“We understand at present that patients are referred to the next nearest facility. This is located at Addenbrookes and funded by Cambridge University Hospitals.”

The sale of the pool is set to be discussed at a council meeting on May 23. Cllr Fitzgerald told the councillors: “I am aware that this will be debated further at the full council meeting later this month and will hope to answer any further queries then.”