Plea to reopen Eastney Swimming Pool and ditch plans for a new leisure centre at Bransbury Park

Campaigners have gathered together in a plea to reopen Eastney Swimming Pool and ditch a £22million plan to build a new leisure centre at Bransbury Park.
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Supporters of the pool used to train the World War Two 'Cockleshell Heroes' are trying to convince Portsmouth City Council to rethink its plans to create a new leisure centre at Bransbury Park to replace the new-closed pool in Eastney as well as the dated facilities at Wimbledon Park.

Some of the supporters of the campaign to save Eastney Swimming PoolSome of the supporters of the campaign to save Eastney Swimming Pool
Some of the supporters of the campaign to save Eastney Swimming Pool

More than 1,000 people have also signed a petition in favouring the option of renovating both sites. They are appalled that the possibility of revamping them appears to have been completely taken off the table despite, they argue, being a far cheaper, saving more than £4million, and be a better option for Portsmouth. And they have now lodged a fresh application to Historic England to have the pool given a listed status to help protect it.

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Kevin Gardner from the campaign group Eastney Pool Redevelopment said: "We cannot understand why a council would want to spend more money to have fewer sports facilities."

It comes after Portsmouth City Council submitted a planning application for the proposed Bransbury Park Leisure Centre, which include a four-lane 25m pool, a learner pool, a relocated GP surgery for existing Devonshire Avenue patients, a fitness suite, spin and multi-purpose studios and a relocated playground. If approved, the Eastney Pool which closed during the coronavirus pandemic would remain shut. Wimbledon Park Sports Centre would also close after the new leisure centre is built.

Paula Ann Savage (3rd right) and Kevin Gardner (5th Right) are joined by others who support their campaign to save Eastney swimming pool.Paula Ann Savage (3rd right) and Kevin Gardner (5th Right) are joined by others who support their campaign to save Eastney swimming pool.
Paula Ann Savage (3rd right) and Kevin Gardner (5th Right) are joined by others who support their campaign to save Eastney swimming pool.

Planning documents state the existing facilities are ageing “with quality anticipated to deteriorate over time and that will coincide with an increasing population placing additional demands on the capacity of existing facilities”. They add the existing pool at Eastney has reached “the end of its life cycle” with poor connections to transport infrastructure. In addition, the dry sports facilities at Wimbledon Park were described as dated and in need of replacement.

However, as previously reported by The News, the original plans have been scaled back and delayed after the council decided to remove a two-court sports hall from the project because of increasing costs.

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Mr Gardner, who regularly swam at Eastney before its closure, said that Portsmouth's sports facilities will be worse as a result - with one netball club already forced to move to Horndean because they would have nowhere to play, and a badminton club folding for similar reasons.

However Portsmouth City Council has argued that its Bransbury Park plan provides the best deal for Portsmouth. It said the decision to permanently close Eastney Swimming Pool and re-provide a new pool at Bransbury Park was made on February 5 2021, taking into account the views garnered during a public consultation setting out options for the cost of refurbishing Eastney Pool.

A spokesperson said: "Our plans for a new Bransbury Park Leisure Centre include a 25-metre swimming pool, a learner pool, a gym and fitness studio, as well as an artificial football pitch, multi-use sports court, children's play park, GP surgery and to retain the miniature railway. People can view and comment on these proposals on our planning portal until Friday 12 April.

"Eastney Swimming Pool had to close in 2020 and remains closed because it requires a new roof. The decision to permanently close the facility was taken in 2021, following extensive public consultation, because it was found to be no longer fit for purpose. It wasn't accessible for all swimmers, or not easy to get to by public transport and the pool's usage was only at around 50 per cent at the time it closed.

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"During the consultation the majority of residents said they were in favour of new facilities being built elsewhere, rather than renovating Eastney at considerable cost.

An artist's impression of the proposed Bransbury Park Leisure CentreAn artist's impression of the proposed Bransbury Park Leisure Centre
An artist's impression of the proposed Bransbury Park Leisure Centre

However Mr Gardner said the initial consultation was flawed, and that officials from the council have still been speaking to campaigners, who were unaware of the 2021 decision, about the option of refurbishing the pool even after that date

He said: "After years of campaigning and communication with the council they are now saying Eastney Pool hasn't been an option for over three years - but they appear to have forgotten to tell anyone." He added that the significant changes to the council's original plans also mean that an earlier consultation no longer stood. He said that many of the hundreds of members of the campaign group were unhappy that consultation questions did not ask respondents about Eastney Pool at all.

Eastney Swimming Pool, built in 1904 as part of Eastney Barracks, was used to train the 'Cockleshell Heroes' - 13 Royal Marines who attempted to paddle in kayaks to blow up German ships in Bordeaux in 1942. Only two of the men survived the partially successful raid.

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It is also the pool where underwater hockey was invented with the first national game taking place in 1968, and campaigners are hopeful that their application to get the building listed will be successful.

Eastney Swimming PoolEastney Swimming Pool
Eastney Swimming Pool

An earlier application to list Eastney Swimming Pool made in 2021 was rejected by Historic England because the pool 'does not have the requisite special architectural and historic interest in a national context to be listed'. The council's Seafront Masterplan drawn up in 2021 now identifies the site as suitable for a water sports hub with café facilities, visitor information and improvement of the setting of the existing WWII pillbox and tank traps.

If the campaigners fail to convince the council to rethink its plans then Eastney will join the pools which Portsmouth has lost over the years including Victoria Swimming Pool and the Pyramids.

Mr Gardner said: "I am appalled at the council's attitude to swimming. They closed Victoria Park swimming pool in the city centre and moved it to the north of the city. They also closed the Pyramids pools without consultation stating that the money saved will enable them to maintain Eastney pool - then they closed Eastney pool.

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"They found £2.5 million to remove the pools at the Pyramids and convert it into a soft play zone - they should have used some of that £2.5million to keep the pool running until a replacement was opened."

To view and comment on the planning application for Bransbury Park Leisure Centre visit Portsmouth City Council's planning portal and search for application 24/00259/FUL. The Eastney Pool Redevelopment campaign group can be found on Facebook.

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