7 January 2022

Instead of splashing about, how about Canberra develop a swimming pool strategy?

| Tim Gavel
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Canberra Olympic Pool

There remains certainty about the future of Canberra Olympic Pool. Photo: File.

A few years ago there was a proposal to build a major aquatic facility on the foreshore in front of what is now New Acton.

It was to be a multi-purpose aquatic complex comprising an indoor 50-metre competition pool complete with enough seating to cater for significant meets, a 25-metre pool and facilities for water polo. I was never sure of the exact details as the proposal remained quite fluid in its concept, and I’m not even sure at what stage it was abandoned.

Instead, it appeared to be replaced by the new indoor facility at the ANU, which was deemed adequate for that part of Canberra.

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The push for a new aquatic complex was viewed as driven, in part, by the uncertainty around the future of the Canberra Olympic Pool in Civic. This continues to be speculated upon, although the time frame to build the new Civic indoor stadium for the Raiders and the Brumbies appears to have blown out considerably.

That is just one part of Canberra’s swimming pool strategy. The other parts, it would appear, require more focus and urgent attention.

Phillip Pool

The Phillip Swimming Pool underwent refurbishment during the winter months. Photo Tim Gavel.

For example, the Phillip Pool, which is closed and fenced off, represents a far more worrying aspect of the overall strategy, if there is one.

John Raut

John Raut, manager of Phillip Swimming and Ice Skating Centre. Photo: Tim Gavel.

Facility manager John Raut says he simply ran out of time because of the impact of COVID. The need to repaint the pool was rendered almost impossible to complete because of the lack of paint and the availability of painters. There is also a symbiotic relationship between the pool and the adjoining ice rink. These issues contributed to the current closure of the swimming pool. It would appear, though, the problems run deeper.

There is a distinct possibility the Phillip Pool may never open again. John Raut doesn’t sound overly optimistic as he highlights the dependency the pool has on the ice rink: “I don’t really know how it will all go, but it will depend on the new ice rink the government is proposing to build at Tuggeranong.

“We are not going to make any money out of the pool if we reopen,” John says.

“If you look at our trading figures for the past 10 to 15 years, the highest gross turnover for the pool was about $190,000 while the lowest for a whole season was $78,000. We can’t even get ready to prepare for the season with that kind of money. And we need staff for 14 hours a day, and it takes three people to staff.

“If that’s around $90 an hour for 14 hours a day, we’re just not making that amount of money. And it’s always had to be subsidised by the ice rink. There’s always a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year pushed into subsidising the pool to keep it going.”

There are also issues with adjoining apartments overlooking the pool, and another block is about to be built across the road.

Swimmers who would normally use Phillip have been forced to head out to Tuggeranong or the new Stromlo facility. But the lack of a pool in Woden, a centre that appears to be growing in population judging by the number of apartments being built, is failing in terms of a swimming pool strategy.

Gungahlin Pool

The Gungahlin pool will be lost for another summer: Closed. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Then there is the Gungahlin Leisure Centre, which was opened with much fanfare in 2014, but is currently not open to the public. More repairs are being made to stop leaking. It was closed last summer and remains closed now.

So where to from here with two of our biggest town centres currently without a swimming pool?

Admittedly the ACT Government couldn’t have foreseen the issues currently facing the Gungahlin pool, but the problems are amplified when you consider the situation at the Phillip facility and the uncertainty over the Canberra Olympic Pool.

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Ray Polglaze9:18 pm 13 Jan 23

Maybe James Milligan, the Shadow Minister for Sport and Recreation, could take up this suggestion and develop a swimming pools strategy that the Liberals could take to the next ACT election.

Schools use these pools for sporting carnivals. Closing pools impacts on school sports and just makes it harder for kids to get to a local pool on a hot day. Geocon and it’s partner, the ACT govt, do not care about community recreation facilities disappearing one by one. Remember Woden Pitch n Putt?

Margaret Freemantle5:58 pm 13 Jan 23

The pitch n putt was such a healthy activityfor all ages. Swimming pools are essential for everyone to learn to swim. Seems elementary to me

fridgemagnet7:12 am 13 Jan 23

The announcement of Geocon acquiring the lease for Phillip Swimming and Ice Skating Centre should send a shudder through the Canberra community.

Morena Gonzalez9:54 am 08 Jan 22

Absolutely disgusting! What is this government doing!! Gungahlin swimming pool still closed, wow, unbelievable; however, more apartments are being built “to help the community”, what a joke.

HiddenDragon7:52 pm 07 Jan 22

A recent RiotAct article about the tramification of Woden mentioned a government survey of under-utilised (or words to that effect) land in and around the town centre. That does not augur well for the Woden pool, when the survey is being conducted for a cash-strapped and densification-obsessed government.

On the other hand, a government which (presumably) believes the climate change related forecasts of dwindling annual rainfall should surely be thinking carefully about the long-term sustainability of using precious drinking water to maintain backyard pools. In that world, a decent public pool facility in each town centre would be a good alternative to private pools.

Great article Tim… shedding light on yet ANOTHER ACT Government disaster.
Unfortunately, Canberra is now the National Crapital. Everything in this city is tired, neglected or broken. The Government appears to have no capability or money to do anything properly. So pools will be fighting for a penny or two with everyone and everything else.
My prediction is that within the next few years, the ACT Government with ‘do a Detroit’ and declare that it is bankrupt.
I suggest handing the Territory back to be run by NSW, with extra funding from the Federal Government given Canberra’s status as the national capital.
Overall, it is such a shame for Canberra and its residents, who deserve much, much better.

Canberra certainly deserves better. A tired and dirty city, a tired Greens Government. Sadly funding for the ACT comes only when the Federal Liberal Government is in power. When Labor is in power Federally they dont give Canberra any funding. The Rattenberry railway in Gungahlin and now the other folly going to Woden absorbs our capital and our rates and taxes will increase accordingly. Not a good look for the National Capital of Australia. If Federal funding was to be withdrawn bankruptcy could be on the horizon. The Woden Choo Choo should be held off and any capital put aside should be used to clean up the city, repair the roads correctly and not with the usual band aid repair. Shopping centres need refreshing and cleaning up. A drive around Canberra will open peoples eyes to see how dirty and tires the place is. Government does not care they know they keep winning elections so why worry about the city or the people.

It doesn’t matter who is in power at a federal level, they both ignore Canberra, because they know pork barrelling here has zero impact on outcomes at elections.

I’m no great fan of light rail, but your comment demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of how the light rail is financed. The ACT Government isn’t going to suddenly put down a billion dollars capital for the Woden leg, which you suggest could be made available for other purposes. They made a significant capital contribution upfront to the 1st leg (through the sale of assets and a kicker on top from the commonwealth under the Asset Recycling Initiative), but I’d be exceptionally surprised if there is anything left to sell to do likewise for stage 2.

Under a PPP, the capex and opex for the project primarily is paid back on a yearly basis over the life of the contract. So its not really true that somehow its ‘absorbing’ all the ACT Government’s capital.

Its a crap project – yes. But its a) not the immediate drain on the Budget many present it to be and b) not a honey pot that can then be suddenly available for a whole range of other things.

Civic pool’s days must be numbered as the government eyes off its very valuable land.

Phillip pool and the nearby cricket/AFL field are probably being watched by developers.

It would have made sense to develop the Stromlo complex into Canberra’s major pool.

Perhaps that is still an option.

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