Express & Star

Future of two Sandwell swimming pools uncertain amid plans to demolish one and sell another

Two swimming centres face a new future in Sandwell, with one being demolished for housing and the other up for sale on the market while a community group seeks to take it over.

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Langley Swimming Centre will be demolished to make way for plans to build 27 affordable homes – subject to planning consent.

Langley Swimming Centre at Vicarage Road in Oldbury, and Smethwick Swimming Centre at Thimblemill Road in Smethwick, both had reports submitted to Sandwell council’s cabinet over how to repurpose them.

Both swimming centres are set to close this summer to make way for the Sandwell Aquatics Centre – set to be open to the public after hosting part of the Commonwealth Games – as the council acknowledges it “cannot afford to retain” the buildings.

Langley Swimming Centre

In the case of Langley swimming centre, councillors approved plans to demolish the vacant building to make way for plans to build 27 affordable homes – subject to planning consent.

Sandwell Council aims to put the site forward as part of the Brownfield Land Release Fund bid.

If successful, the government funding will partly contribute to an estimated £924,500 for demolition of Langley swimming centre to prepare for re-development.

It is envisaged that pre-demolition works will begin at the end of the year. However, if unsuccessful, the site remains at risk of becoming vacant and increased risk of anti-social behaviour.

Councillor Peter Hughes, the cabinet member for regeneration and growth, said the affordable homes were “welcomed”.

Councillor Jackie Taylor asked councillor Hughes whether local councillors close to Langley swimming centre – Labour’s Bill Gavan and Caroline Owen, and Sandwell Together’s Yvonne Davies – had been consulted on the proposals.

Councillor Hughes said councillors have known for “some time” – at least 2018 – that the swimming centre would become vacant.

He said: “We need to make sure that local members are kept informed on everything within this portfolio, and that’s happened actually with the the local plan with the information that has been cascaded down.

“The local members will have known for some time that this site will become vacant and requiring a review for its future use the proposal to look at the scheme for council housing for this site.”

Councillor Hughes said councillors representing Langley and Abbey wards would have known “as recently as at the end of February” about the proposals. He said “no major concerns were received” about Langley swimming centre.

Smethwick Swimming Centre

Smethwick Swimming Centre, meanwhile, has been recommended to both go on open market whilst also supporting a non-profit organisation – the People’s Orchestra – to take on the premises under a community asset transfer.

Officers recommended senior councillors to vote to place the site on the open market “to ascertain if there is any commercial or other interest to purchase the site, subject to any planning consents that may be required for change of use.”

Options were considered over the future of Smethwick Swimming Centre, according to a working group of officers at Sandwell council, but they have assumed “no other council service will have use for the building once it closes and the council cannot afford to retain the building.”

One group which has expressed interest in the building – The People’s Orchestra – a non-profit organisation – wishes to convert the building into a 420 seat music venue.

The group, which has over ten years’ experience of delivering arts-based training and development programmes, hopes to repurpose the swimming centre as a community development training hub and concert hall, ensuring the building is retained as a community venue.

The proposal is dependent on successful bids from multiple funding streams, including the West Midlands Combined Authority. At least £1.3 million underspend from the Commonwealth Games is available, according to Sandwell council, to de-risk the building.

A building condition report by the council from 2020 estimates the cost of annual building maintenance for Smethwick Swimming Centre to be approximately £98,000 – a financial liability to the council. The council notes £100,000 – at 2020 prices – will be required immediately to secure the building. For future use, £385,000 will be required within two years and £650,000 within five years.

Councillor Hughes said: “Whilst further funding applications have progressed, to deliver phases of a build programme, as there is a risk of the funding which being unsuccessful is recommended the Council also explores expressions of interest from the open market.

“This report therefore seeks approval to test the market and advertise a Smethwick swimming centre site whilst also supporting the People’s Orchestra. To develop their proposal to determine their project’s viability and allow them to undertake a business planning exercise to confirm whether they’re able to take on the premises under the under a community asset transfer.”