Huge funding hole for splashpad but plans it will open next summer

Mick Marks addressing the public forum at St Neots on Saturday morning.

Mick Marks addressing the public forum at St Neots on Saturday morning. - Credit: HUNTS POST

St Neots could see its long-awaited and long-promised splashpad finally open next summer but there are still several hurdles to overcome - including a huge hole in the funding.

A public forum, held at the Priory Centre, in St Neots, on Saturday, heard from St Neots Aquatic and Leisure, the charity behind the plans, and chairman Mick Marks expressed some frustration that the project had still not come to fruition.

"We have been trying for six years to get this off the ground", he told the audience of around 80 people.

"We were promised £250,000 by St Neots Town Council and we still haven't seen it."

The sum of money Mr Marks is referring to was agreed by a unanimous vote at a full St Neots Town Council meeting in February, 2019. Subsequent legal advice cast doubt on the decision and the offer was rescinded in the following days. Concerns were also raised about the source of the funding, the short time scale for the project and the fact that some councillors had not seen a business plan. The splashpad was originally set to open in summer 2020.

Mr Marks said after the meeting that as far as SNAL is concerned, the funding award "was legitimate and still stands as an approved outstanding grant".

As to the business plan, he explained that a detailed full business plans had been made available to all councillors at every stage of the process and the "business finances have also been scrutinised by the council's finance team".

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The public forum was set up to gauge public opinion about several projects for the town which could be realised if they receive Community Infrastructure Levy - money given to St Neots from housing developers. 

St Neots mayor, Cllr Ben Pitt, speaking at Saturday's public meeting, described the funding debacle as a "can of worms" but said the town council was "keen to see the matter resolved" and shared Mr Mark's and others' frustration.

The forum was told  planning documents had been put before HDC in 2021 and had received a "positive response" and pre-planning documents put before HDC in January this year had been approved and Brown & Co were now preparing tenders. The plan now is for a full planning application to be submitted to HDC in August, building work to start in early 2023 and then the facility could finally open in the summer of next year. 

Mr Marks said although the project had been launched in 2016, it had taken a full two years just to transfer all the assets to SNAL. The group has since received quotes of £350,000 and £310,000 to build an "entertainment zone" alongside Eat & Bowl and Priory Park, in St Neots.

He also told the audience that the plan was for a splashpad, rather than a swimming pool, for the town was due to the huge cost of building a swimming pool, which would run into millions, couple with the high maintenance and running costs. He said it was "almost impossible"  for anyone to run a swimming pool at a profit.