St Neots is finally on course to get a new splash park after town councillors agreed to grant £250,000 for the building project on Tuesday night.
It is hoped that a 300-square-metre splash pad, which will be free to use and could be up and running later this year, will sit in a splash park alongside a new swimming pool.
Plans for a covered swimming pool have also been confirmed at the splash park site on the old outdoor swimming pool land, in Huntingdon Street. This project will be undertaken, funded and maintained by a private company who will also maintain the mechanics of the splash pad. There are currently three companies in the bidding process to build a 18-25 metre pool. There will also be a cafe on the site, which will be run by the adjacent Eat ‘n’ Bowl.
However, despite years of delays, wrangling and public demand to see a new leisure facility on the site, a motion to grant the money to the St Neots Aquatic and Leisure CIO for the splash pad was passed with only the slimmest of margins at last night’s full town council meeting.
Of the 16 councillors eligible to vote at the meeting, just eight backed the plan to grant money from Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) which is made up of funding from developers.
In a recorded vote, five voted against the motion and another three abstained.
Before the vote, councillors were given a presentation from Mick Marks, one of the seven trustees of the St Neots Aquatic and Leisure CIO. He presented seven options for the splash park to councillors, which included an option, put forward by developers, for a retirement home and houses. This plan would have meant using the funds to build the splash park elsewhere in the town but was the least preferred option.
Councillors heard that the full cost of the splash park project will be about £350,000 and the trustees already have £100,000, which has come from rent paid by Eat ‘n’ Bowl which leases the land formally owned by the St Neots Swimming Pool Trust and later transferred to the new trust.
The cost of the swimming pool will be £1.5 million, but this will be privately financed and run as a “going concern” with no funding or ongoing costs required from the town council.
Objections to the grant funding for the splash park centred around concerns about the future viability of the project.
Cllr Gordon Thorpe raised concerns about the “lack of guarantees” about the future sustainability of the project. Cllr Barry Chapman said he thought a 40-year loan would be a “relatively safe way” to fund the project and voted against the motion.
Mr Marks told him, the trustees were not willing to take on the debt as they were a small group.
“It has to be a grant not a loan,” he said.
“The council could change in the future and the loan could be recalled and then the debt sits against the trustees,” he told the chamber.
Supporting the project, Cllr Sandie Giles said: “I think it is absolutely brilliant and it will be a wonderful asset for the town and I think we should thank the trustees for all their hard work.”
Councillor Ben Pitt said he was “fully supportive of the business plan,” but felt he needed more details and “welcomed further discussion” so could not give the motion his support.
The council will now set up a meeting with its finance officer, chairman and the trustees to take the splash park project forward.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Marks said: “The volunteer trustees have worked extremely hard to get the project to this point. We want to thank the council for supporting this grant application as it now means we can push on and engage with suppliers and provide a timescale and more detail.”