Swimmers strip to save their baths

Article published: Tuesday, January 29th 2013

Residents stripped down to their swimwear this weekend as up to 800 people protested against swimming bath closures in Withington and Levenshulme.

Save Withington Baths demo 27 Feb

Photograph: Phil Tragen

Six months after the Olympics and people are already asking, “What legacy?” A new Observer survey on what people make of the games revealed 65 per cent of parents with children under 18 think the government has done nothing to boost sports.

In Manchester this number may only increase, with the planned closure of Withington and Levenshulme swimming baths and a lack of new facilities until 2015. New Moston’s Broadway Baths and swimming pools in Chorlton and Miles Platting are also set to be scrapped.

But locals came out in force against the plans. Saturday saw 600 people demonstrate in Levenshulme, while on Sunday 200 gathered outside Withington Baths to protest.

Manchester City Council plan to replace the five closed pools with new complexes in Hough End and Levenshulme in 2015 and a new pool in Beswick for 2014. Chorlton Baths will remain open until its replacement by Hough End.

According to an email from Sport England to Withington Liberal Democrat MP John Leech, the closures were decided over one year ago. The council has provided only a three-week consultation window as part of its proposed £80m cuts budget.

Howard Newhall, Ben Jones and Cllr Simon Wheale, in swimwear. Photograph: Phil Tragen

Howard Newhall, Ben Jones and Cllr Simon Wheale, in swimwear. Photograph: Phil Tragen

Many fear the decision has already been made. Protest organiser Sian Astley, local resident and Channel Five presenter said, “Today’s swimwear flashmob only served to prove what we already knew, that Withington Leisure Centre is much loved and needed by our community, essential and irreplaceable for many.”

Manchester City Council planned this closure over a year ago as a disclosed email from Sport England shows – yet there are no interim facilities planned and the community have been given just three weeks for a consultation period on something apparently already decided. Some Olympic Legacy huh?”

It is understood that the council says the planned closure of Levenshulme and Miles Platting to cut down management and maintenance costs have been in the public domain for two years, but maintains the closure of Withington Baths is down to the latest round of £80m cuts.

A protest outside New Moston Library is planned for tomorrow, 30 January at 6pm and a march in Withington from the Baths to the Library will be held Saturday 2 February at 12.30pm.

The council’s consultation period closes on 13 February.

Ben Spiro-Hughes

More: Council, Cuts, News

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