Swimming pool and gymnastics centre plans for Norwich

Kate ScotterNorwich could be in line for a major improvement in grassroots sport as the idea of a new swimming pool is mooted and plans are unveiled for an Olympic-standard gymnastics centre.Kate Scotter

Norwich could be in line for a major improvement in grassroots sport as the idea of a new swimming pool is mooted and plans are unveiled for an Olympic-standard gymnastics centre.

A brand new swimming pool could be built in either Mile Cross or Catton Grove if plans to block self-rule for the city were dropped, according to council leader Steve Morphew.

A unitary council would have the power to run all the city's services and Mr Morphew said a new pool would be the perfect way to bring together policies on leisure, health and young people.

He spoke about his ambitions for better swimming facilities as plans for a �2.8m extension of sports facilities were published by the University of East Anglia including a new Olympics-standard gymnastics centre and new seven-a-side soccer pitches.

The UEA plans, submitted to City Hall, would mean the new football pitches being in action before Christmas with the gymnastics centre open next summer.

Keith Nicholls, UEA director of physical education and sport, said: 'Our success over the last decade has enabled us to reinvest nearly �9m in the last seven years in new facilities.

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'The gymnastics centre will enable us to meet the huge unsatisfied demand for gymnastics in the area and open up Sportspark to a large number of new young people. The SoccerPark extension will meet the growing demand for casual, non-league seven-a-side football.'

A new pool in the north of the city would revive memories of the St Augustine's Pool which closed in 1996 and was later demolished to make way for a shopping parade.

Swimmers currently use the Harper's pool at Riverside, which the city council helped build in partnership with Sport England and which is run by private firm Leisure Connection. There is also the UEA Sportspark pool, but both are in the south of the city.

City council leaders are believed to have looked at two sites but Mr Morphew said his own preference was to build a pool at the former abattoir site at Pointer's Field, off Aylsham Road.

Mr Morphew said a new pool was a great example of the sort of joined-up thinking a new unitary council could carry out and would be near the top of the new unitary council's wish-list.

'Somewhere like Pointer's Field would be my favourite, which is relatively close to where the old swimming pool was, but there are others under consideration because we are not sure what's suitable or not,' Mr Morphew said.

'It would be part of an integrated policy framework which helps bring together children's and adult social services with health and leisure and could help tackle anti-social behaviour.

'What we know is that there is a real demand for it,' he added. 'When you do a survey of people around Mile Cross, Catton Grove, and Sewell, the one thing they always ask for is a swimming pool.'

The unitary plans, which were approved by the government earlier this year, face two major hurdles - a legal challenge which is due to start in London's High Court tomorrow and a pledge by the Conservatives to scrap the new council if they win the general election.

Norfolk County Council believes the new authority would throw all Norfolk in at the deep end because vital services would be broken up and the city is too small on its current boundaries for the new unitary to stack up financially.

Mr Morphew today renewed his call for the county council to drop its legal challenge to the government's decision to create a unitary Norwich.

But Norfolk County Council leader Daniel Cox insisted the authority had no plans to drop its court case.

'If councillor Morphew is putting forward a Norwich unitary based on this as some sort of utopia, then he is selling the residents of Norwich short,' he said. 'If the city council wants to build a swimming pool there is nothing to stop them doing it now. I am sure he is going to tear up every paving slab and put down gold ones instead.

'Clearly he is rattled by the forthcoming judicial review because he knows we have got a very strong case as to why it shouldn't go ahead. It's clearly gerrymandering and put through in the dying days of a Labour government.'