Only two swimming pools in the city are currently open to members of the public after the closure or repurposing of several other sites, including the Pyramids Centre and Eastney swimming pool.
Although Portsmouth swimmers say that there are not enough pools for the city’s population, the council is looking to a brighter future for bathers.
Cllr Ben Dowling promises ‘Portsmouth is in the middle of a revitalisation of swimming facilities’, and believes that the now-closed facilities at the Pyramids Centre and Eastney were not fit for purpose.
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Eastney permanently closed in March 2020 due to the pandemic, and the swimming facilities at Pyramids were replaced with Exploria soft play centre as part of a £2.5m redevelopment.
Cllr Dowling said: ‘The Pyramids building has a new leisure offer for the next generation of Portsmouth’s young people in Exploria.’
Swimming facilities at Mountbatten Leisure Centre and Charter Community Sports Centre are currently open for members of the public.
Although Hilsea Lido was forced to end its season early and closed in August, it is set to reopen for the new season in 2022.
The cabinet member for culture, leisure and economic development added: ‘People across the north of the city have good facilities at the Mountbatten Centre.
‘People across the South of the city have access to public swimming at Charter Academy and will have access at the new University pool at Ravelin Park from mid-December.
‘Meanwhile, the council is embarking on an ambitious plan to provide a completely modern, inclusive and sustainable swimming pool as part of a new leisure and community centre at Bransbury Park with a planning coming forward in Spring 2022.’
The University of Portsmouth’s Ravelin Sports Centre - featuring a pool filled with approximately one million litres of water - will open its doors to students, staff and the public for the first time on December 13.
Paul Tilley, head of sport and recreation at the university, said: ‘Ravelin Sports Centre will provide an exceptional facility for the people of Portsmouth.
‘It is a clear statement from the university of the importance sport and physical activity plays in the lives of our community and in the post-Covid recovery.
‘The power of active lifestyles will drive improved mental and physical wellbeing and enhanced social connectivity.
‘Bringing a swimming pool back to this area has been a long-term goal of ours and having the ability to offer swimming lessons to local children, pay as you go sessions, as well as memberships, make it an affordable option for anyone.
‘We are extremely proud of this facility and are sure our students, staff and local community will be too.’
The city council also has plans to create a new community and leisure facility on the site of the existing Eastney Community Centre, in Bransbury Park, that will include a gym, sports hall, two pools and meeting rooms.
This new £12.5m site will replace Eastney Swimming Pool and Wimbledon Sports Centre, which would have needed £850,000 to bring them up to scratch.
Development partner Alliance Leisure Services has been working on an initial design, taking into account a range of research including a city-wide consultation, input from Eastney Area Community Association, the council's leisure centre operators BH Live, and Portsmouth Model Engineering Society, and consultation with the Football Foundation and Sport England.
This information, the council said, allows Alliance and their architects GT3 to produce a 'facility mix' designed to match what is needed at the new development with a report expected to go to cabinet in early 2022.
A council spokeswoman said: ‘The project team will be discussing these plans with local residents at a Winter Wonderland engagement event on Saturday, December 11 at Eastney Community Centre.
‘This fun event will see lots of local organisations coming together to share information with the public alongside festive activities and entertainment.’
Despite plans for new pools, Portsmouth swimmers say that the city’s current facilities are not sufficient.
Linda Carragher swam three mornings a week at Eastney for 11 years until its closure.
She said that council decisions to close this site and the Pyramids fun pool left swimmers with the Mountbatten Centre pool to serve the whole of the second most overpopulated city in the country after London.
‘For people in the south of the city visiting Mountbatten involves driving through a congested city with a huge pollution problem,’ she said.
‘There is talk of a new pool being built at Bransbury Park as part of a community sports project in the south of the city, however, statutory consultation is not planned until at least 2022 so we are talking years if, or until, the pool is built.’
Adam Parfitt has been head coach at Portsmouth Northsea Swimming Club, based at the Mountbatten centre, since 2019.
He said: ‘We’ve grown out of pool time available to us. We’ll be at max capacity across the board.
‘The problem will come in the next couple of years - especially after the pandemic, we’ve got a lot of kids who are interested in swimming. As they progress through the club, we’re going to outgrow the lanes.
‘This is a big problem across the city, and it’s partly due to the pandemic.
‘We used to use time at Eastney, and they closed the Pyramids pool, so that limited pool time in the city.’
Portsmouth Northsea Swimming Club has around 400 competitive members, as well as 300 learners.
‘Swimming’s always been a big thing in Portsmouth. There will come a point where we will hit the ceiling and we’re not far off now,’ Adam added.
‘As coaches, we always talk about how talent can come from anywhere - it’s about giving as many people as possible the chance to take up the sport. The more opportunities people have the better.’
Adam also pointed out that the full length of the 50m pool, built at Mountbatten centre in 2009, has not been used for the past two years due to issues with the moveable floor – so it can only be used as a 25m pool.
He said: ‘It’s disappointing that we don’t have access to 50m training - we would have access to Olympic standard facilities.’
However, the coach also stresses that while he foresees issues in the future, the club is still taking members.
Adam added: ‘We’re not completely full, we’re open for business - it’s more looking at the future. It’s looking at 12 to 18 months down the line.’
There is wheelchair access to poolside at both Mountbatten and Charter sports centres, and pool hoists are present at both sites.
A spokeswoman for Portsmouth City Council said: ‘Wimbledon Park Sports Centre remained closed when other sites reopened because its condition was deteriorating, and many of its users re-located to the Mountbatten Centre.
‘Eastney Swimming Pool also stayed closed due to its deteriorating condition, but in this case the issues are much more serious. The roof structure is not safe, and the cost of replacing it would be in the millions.’
No decision has been taken on the future of the Eastney site, but the council says that its Seafront Masterplan identifies that this space ‘could accommodate a range of leisure-type uses’.
However, as the building itself is deteriorating, the spokeswoman said ‘a decision may have to be made soon about demolishing it.’