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Levelling-up Funding: Broomhill Pool

Volume 731: debated on Monday 17 April 2023

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Joy Morrissey.)

It is an absolute pleasure to have such a vast amount of time in front of us for a very long debate covering many hours. No, we will of course try our best to keep it to half an hour.

This is a very important topic both to my constituents in Ipswich and to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter). Peculiarly enough, the entrance to Broomhill lido is in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but the actual pool is in mine. It therefore covers both constituencies and is of benefit both to his constituents and to mine, in north-west Ipswich and across the town. In fact, when I go about knocking on doors and talking to residents across Ipswich, it is clear that this is not just an issue local to north-west Ipswich, but a town-wide issue. It is also, to an extent, a county-wide issue, as it would offer benefits to many people across Suffolk.

The Minister will know that Broomhill lido was a part of our levelling-up Get Ipswich Active bid. In terms of the money, it was quite a small proportion. The new Gainsborough sports centre bid was for around £15 million, while the Broomhill element was £2.8 million. So numerically it was a small portion, but actually, in terms of popular support and the difference that each project would make, I think Broomhill lido was very much an equal. It was therefore disappointing that we were not successful with the levelling-up bid. A number of people had worked very hard on formulating the bid and had got their hopes up that maybe this time, finally, we could get the project over the line. Sadly, that was not the case. However, we are here today and we feel as though the sums of money involved are significant but not unachievable. We feel as though in front of us there may well be a pathway to finally push the Broomhill lido project over the line and make it happen.

Broomhill lido was first opened in April 1938. Sadly, because of a structural survey in 1998, the decision was made at the end of the 2002 season to close the pool. Almost immediately, the Broomhill Pool Trust campaigned for it to be reopened. That campaign has lasted for over 20 years. Individuals connected with the trust, such as Mark Ling, deserve a huge amount of credit.

I must admit that I am here quite late in the day. My hon. Friend, who has served the people of Central Suffolk and North Ipswich for over 13 years, has had a much stronger involvement. To be perfectly honest, when I was first elected I thought it was a done deal. I thought the money was in place, it was fantastic and that it was going to happen. Unfortunately, the initial reconstruction work was due to start in April 2020. Obviously, covid hit and that impacted Fusion Lifestyle, the leisure company scheduled to spearhead the works and manage the lido once it reopened. With the inflationary pressures of covid and everything else, there is now a significant shortfall which means that, sadly, the project has not moved forward.

The lido is a great heritage asset. It is a grade II listed building. It is one of only 17 listed lidos in the country and the only listed lido in Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. I cannot say I have read all of Janet Smith’s book “Liquid Assets”, but I have seen one passage which refers to Broomhill lido as arguably the most impressive of its type in the country, right up there with Penzance, Tinside and Saltdean, so it has significant heritage value. Part of the plan would involve a heritage centre, which would enable people to learn more about its construction, architectural style and everything else associated with it.

On funding, approximately £7 million has been secured, but there is a shortfall of approximately £2.5 million. A few options are open to us, but I am certain that we will need Government support to provide us with some extra funding, whether through a community ownership fund or any other pots of money. The will is there locally. We thank the heritage lottery fund—my hon. Friend worked very hard to secure that initial £3.5 million loan. The fund are open to increasing their contribution, and it would be up to the borough council to make an application. I met the heritage lottery fund not too long ago to discuss this, and we thank them. There is the option of them giving more. We also have willing partners in both the borough council and Suffolk County Council, who are looking at what they can do to support this. But we believe that the Government’s explicit support to contribute towards the funding shortfall and their symbolic support are much needed.

On the benefits of reopening the Broomhill lido, what really triggered the application for the Get Ipswich Active levelling-up fund bid was the startling statistic that, sadly, the Ipswich borough area is the eighth least active in the country in terms of physical activity levels. Clearly, any opportunities to invest in infrastructure to help tackle that, such as this outdoor lido, would be very welcome. There are also the mental health benefits of everyone taking part in this activity. There is the heritage aspect. There is the way in which it connects with what we have to do to tackle issues with gangs in Ipswich, to give young people something positive to do and to believe in. This would do that.

When I have discussed this issue with many constituents, I have been struck by the emotions that come out. So often they have memories of going to the lido as a child, and there is love for it. On the face of it, it might just seem like an outdoor swimming pool, but to many people on an emotional level it means so much more. Support from the Government would speak both to the Government’s commitment to, belief in and ambition for Ipswich, and to the renaissance of our town, to get on the front foot. The Government’s support would be very much welcome.

There is also the point that if we were to do nothing, quite frankly this site would become a liability. Because of its protected heritage—it is a listed building—there are obligations on the borough council for its upkeep. Were the building to deteriorate further, the consequent cost for the borough council would be in the millions. It is also a protected area, so there would be cost implications as a result of that. Doing nothing comes with an associated cost. To me, having got so close—way over halfway there—it would be a travesty to allow it to slip through our fingers just when we could realise its potential.

I will take this opportunity to talk about sporting infrastructure more widely. I must say that this is my No. 1 priority at the moment. Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Northgate athletics club, which has been the home of Ipswich Harriers athletics club since the end of the 19th century. Many famous athletes have started off there and gone on to represent Team GB. It has a disability team that also relies on the facility. It is also after around £400,000 to help resurface a track. Again, after this debate I will be making that campaign, because I passionately believe in the benefits of investing in first-class sporting infrastructure, whether that be lidos or athletics tracks. We have to invest in those facilities on so many different levels, for physical health, mental health and to give all people—particularly young people—something positive to be part of and to aspire to.

It is important to realise that over the last 30 years, around 30 pools have closed in Ipswich. That is a sign of the decline. This would be an opportunity to start reversing that decline, and to start putting some momentum behind it. I pay tribute to all those who have done the work to get us where we are, which is basically on the brink, in a positive sense: my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, and the Broomhill Pool Trust and all the volunteers associated with it, who have done a huge amount of work to assemble the evidence and the documentation. I would add the councillors of Castle Hill, who over a number of years have been hugely supportive.

I am cautiously optimistic that we can be successful. I am coming in at the end of the process and so seek to claim no credit for it. This is something that should have been done. The work should have started in April 2020. Negative fate has meant that we are here still campaigning to get it reopened. I hope I can play a small role in pushing this project over the line. It is a remarkable architectural facility, and I would love the Minister to visit it to see it for herself. If she did, I think she would see its immense potential and why it means so much to so many people.

I have been speaking for just over 11 minutes, so I will now call it quits and hand over to my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, who will make an incredibly eloquent furthering of the points that I have been trying to make about why this is so necessary and beneficial for the people of Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, and Ipswich as a whole.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) on securing this debate. In my 13 years serving my constituents and the people of Suffolk in this House—he is right about that—I have had three constituency neighbours. The first two were wildly different heights—one of small stature and one of very tall stature. Given the vigour with which my hon. Friend has taken forward the issue of Broomhill since he was elected, he is second to none in stature. It is pleasing for me, having been ploughing a lone furrow in this place and locally as a constituency MP, to have the tremendous support of my hon. Friend to push this matter forward. We are close—that is certainly true. A lot of progress has been made. There has been commitment from the borough council and the heritage lottery fund. We now hope to secure some additional county council funding to get this project over the line.

Broomhill pool is held in great regard by many people across Suffolk. It has been a pool in which Olympians have trained and families have enjoyed their summers. It is a well-loved community place. Unfortunately, for the last 20 years it has been effectively serving as a museum to its past glories, but we now have a real chance of getting this project over the line. Unfortunately, during the covid pandemic, when we were on the verge of breaking ground and getting the project delivered, inflationary costs across the economy rose, particularly in building costs and materials, which affected the viability of the Broomhill project.

As my hon. Friend said, we have a shortfall of £2.5 million, and I am hopeful that, through different sources, we can make that funding up. I am hopeful that the heritage lottery fund may be able to recognise those inflationary pressure and put more money forward. We are hopeful that the county council may find some money from its Ipswich fund—we are grateful to Councillor Paul West, the Ipswich portfolio member, for his work. We are also hopeful that there may be some money, even a small amount, that we can bid for from the Government to help get this project over the line. My hon. Friend mentioned the community fund. If there is a few hundred thousand pounds we could bid for, that could make all the difference in helping to get Broomhill reopened and re-established as the important community resource the people of Ipswich need.

Not only do we want to reopen the lido for the community, but we want to put it on a sustainable footing. With Fusion Lifestyle involved, we believe we have a partner organisation that will help to do exactly that—not just reopen the lido, but have a medium and long-term plan in place to ensure the facility will remain open and be enhanced for the benefit of the whole Ipswich community, in the months and years ahead.

Our asks to the Minister are, first, for her and the Government to bring to bear all the influence they can to support our wider effort for funding and, secondly, to help us to identify what pots of Government money may be available to bid for. When we undoubtedly bid for that for Broomhill, we hope she will look on those funding requests with favourable eyes as they come across her desk.

In conclusion, I again congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich on securing the debate. The opportunity to air these issues in this place is long overdue. I am delighted that we now have two Members of Parliament in Ipswich who are fighting for the future of Broomhill pool. If we continue to work together with the local community and the Broomhill Pool Trust, and with some support from the Government, the county council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, hopefully, we can get this over the line.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) for securing the debate. I congratulate him on doing so, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) on his passionate contribution. Both my hon. Friends have been, are, remain and will long be tireless advocates for Ipswich and for Suffolk. They are both deeply committed to championing projects that improve the quality of life of local residents, and create new and exciting opportunities those residents can benefit from. That very much extends to the Broomhill lido, which we have heard about today.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich for bringing the project to my attention some months ago, not least given it is a beautiful art deco building—that is my favourite architectural style—and for raising the project in the House again today, ensuring it is firmly on the mind of Government. I thank him sincerely for his continued support in helping to bring the pool back into use for the benefit and enjoyment of residents. I also thank local residents involved with the Broomhill Pool Trust for the incredible work they have done in bringing it back into use.

I know my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich shares the Government’s view that sport and physical activity have a central role to play in our levelling-up agenda, particularly in tackling the health inequalities that persist across the UK today. That was clear in the “Get Ipswich Active” bid to the levelling-up fund, which he mentioned.

The data on health outcomes in this country is particularly stark. On average, people living in the most deprived communities in England have over 18 years less of their lives in good health than those living in the least deprived areas. Frankly, we should all feel shocked by that fact, because health cannot and should not be a postcode lottery. That is why the Government are committed to improving outcomes for people across the UK, from young people growing up in Ipswich to older adults living in Inverness.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich will know, in the levelling-up White Paper, we set a 2035 target of raising healthy life expectancy by five years, while narrowing the healthy life expectancy gap in areas where it is most pronounced by 2030. One year on from that paper’s publication, we remain equally committed to those goals and we are making real progress towards them.

Good health is, in many ways, the essence of levelling up. It allows people, wherever they live, to enjoy fulfilling, happy and productive lives. We can all agree that for too long geographic disparities have been a barrier to good health for many people. There are many factors behind the geographic divide. Access to and quality of health services vary dramatically by area, as does the quality of housing and the availability of affordable, healthier food. As today’s debate has shown, access to high-quality sports facilities in places such as Ipswich is another factor fuelling health inequalities in this country.

Many well-loved pools, gyms and leisure centres have been under considerable pressure for some time now. Covid-19 had a profound impact on the sports and leisure sector, forcing many well-loved, vital local facilities to restrict their services or, sadly, to close entirely. The current cost of living pressures have exacerbated that trend, with rising energy costs squeezing sports facilities even further.

The last thing we want to see is pools and leisure centres forced to close their doors to the very people who need them most. That is why we announced £60 million of new funding for public swimming pools in England in the spring Budget. That much-needed funding will not only help swimming pool providers with the immediate cost pressures of high energy bills, but allow facilities to invest in energy-efficient renovations, making them more sustainable in the long term. The funding will keep the doors open— and, in some places, the wave machines on—at pools across the country. Importantly, it will mean that communities can continue to access the facilities that they depend on for their physical and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich mentioned, mental health.

Our work does not stop there. Whether someone is a keen swimmer, a gymnast or a five-a-side footballer, we all know that physical activity has much wider benefits for society than the obvious health merits. Sporting activities bring people together, as we saw when the Lionesses united the country in support of their incredible victory. They create a sense of pride in place and they reduce social isolation, all the while providing skills and jobs that boost the economy.

Local leaders all over the country know that investing in sport and physical activities will bring much wider benefits for their communities. I am glad to see places using their town deal funding to support people in getting and staying active. From establishing a multimodal green travel route in Carlisle to delivering a new multi-purpose sport and leisure hub in Stevenage, I am pleased to see places prioritising their residents’ health and wellbeing in their town deal projects.

Ipswich is no exception. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich knows, his constituency has been awarded £25 million from the towns fund, with a portion of that funding earmarked for health and wellbeing initiatives across Ipswich. Some £3.75 million of Ipswich’s allocation is being used to transform a former waterfront silo building into a new leisure complex that, once finished, will become home to the UK’s highest external climbing wall—exactly the type of forward-thinking, multi-use regeneration project that the towns fund is proud to support.

In addition, £1.31 million of the towns fund allocation will be put towards a new pedestrian and cycle bridge at Ipswich waterfront, improving active travel access in the town and enabling a circular route across the picturesque marina for the first time in Ipswich’s history. A further £1.96 million will be spent on the Greener Ipswich project, which will link the waterfront to the town centre, encouraging more walking and cycling throughout the town and opening up new green spaces along the way.

Taken together, this package of projects will have a real, measurable impact on the health and wellbeing of people living in Ipswich. This is true levelling up in action, and I for one am excited to see these projects coming forward for my hon. Friend’s constituents. I thank him for all his hard work to bring them to fruition.

While I am certainly encouraged by the Government’s progress to date in tackling health inequalities and boosting wellbeing, it is clear to me that there is still a long road ahead. Health inequalities still persist across the UK, and too many people’s health and wellbeing remain dictated largely by where they live. That has to change, but I am confident that it will. We have the support of brilliant local leadership and dedicated community champions and politicians such as my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich and for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich. I understand that they are due to meet officials in my Department soon to explore possible funding options to bridge the funding gap; I will certainly support them in that endeavour and am happy to meet them separately to discuss the matter.

I love getting offered visits in this Chamber, because it is a place where I absolutely cannot say no. I am very happy to visit Ipswich to come and see the lido in person, as well as to see the incredible benefits of the towns fund projects that my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich has been working so hard to support.

I really want to re-emphasise the importance of that visit, because actually going to the lido made a big difference for me. Anyone who visits the building and the old café can see its beauty and see the potential for the new café and the fitness suite: it is a beautiful building, even when it is not in use. I cannot underline enough how much my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) and I, along with the pool trust, would welcome the Minister.

I am very grateful for those warm words. I am giving my officials in the Box the nod to make a note that we will definitely come and visit, not least so that I can see at first hand the incredible art deco architecture, which is my favourite style. I am very excited to see it.

There is an important takeaway from today’s debate, in which we have heard about the potential benefits of Ipswich’s Broomhill lido. When we talk about billions or millions being invested, we need to remember that local projects that may seem small through a national lens really are at the very heart of communities. These projects are huge for local residents: I do not think it an overstatement to say that they can and do change lives. As we move ahead with our levelling-up missions in the months and years ahead, it is vital that we keep local communities and local priorities, such as saving the Broomhill lido, very much at the heart of what we do.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.