“We are disappointed but not surprised by this decision.”
That’s the view of Kettering Amateur Swimming Club (KASC) chairman Mike Annable after a bid for a new pool for the town was overlooked in a list of levelling-up schemes.
Local projects that could be in line for the Government’s Levelling Up cash were revealed for the first time this week ahead of a North Northamptonshire Council meeting, including Chester House, Adrenaline Alley or the Stanton Cross Rail Over-bridge.
KASC had made a submission for a new leisure centre to replace the town’s London Road facility, which has just reached the average pool lifespan of 38 years.
But it was rejected alongside 58 other applications. None of the seven shortlisted projects are in Kettering and only one is in a ‘left behind’ area.
Mr Annable said: "Once again the opportunity to upgrade leisure facilities in Kettering has been overlooked. It does not take a genius to look at what is on offer in other parts of north Northamptonshire and compare that to what we have in Kettering and see that we are miles behind.
“When each of the old borough councils was asked to identify its priorities we raised the issue that Kettering Borough Council was the only one that did not put forward any sport or leisure facilities, with the exception of GLaM. The rebuild of Redwell Leisure Centre in Wellingborough was approved by Wellingborough Council's planning department in 2020, with the option to add yet another swimming pool. It was obvious what would happen when the various councils merged.
“North Northamptonshire has less water for swimming than the national and regional average, but that is because Kettering has a third of that average. Wellingborough has almost three times that water and both Corby and East Northamptonshire have more than that. Travel is the biggest obstacle to accessing leisure facilities, yet Kettering residents are faced with using below standard facilities or driving around the county.”
Projects identified for the levelling-up shortlist must be finished by March 2025, which may have been a reason for not taking the submission further.
The proposal for a new Kettering swimming pool is not at the stage it would need to be to be completed by then. But this comes after the now-defunct Kettering Borough Council (KBC) was accused of burying its head in the sand for years.
They agreed to look into the possibility of a new pool in December 2016 and set up a working party to investigate whether the authority could do so.
But they carried out half-hearted research – visiting just Kettering’s pool – and then disbanded a research group in 2019, ruling out committing to building one and leaving any move to the new North Northamptonshire Council (NNC). NNC is yet to commit to a new pool.
The current pool was opened in 1984 and has needed costly investment in recent years - having been forced to close in 2017 after ceiling panelling fell into the water.
A petition for a new pool for Kettering currently has almost 1,500 signatures.
Today (Friday) Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson said it is ‘frankly unacceptable’ that, nationally, six out of 10 children could leave primary school by 2025 unable to swim 25m.
Mr Annable added: “Kettering doesn't even have a learner pool. This is something that was identified by the KBC sports facilities strategy. Children learning to swim at Kettering Swimming Pool have to do so in deep water which affects confidence.
"When in one in four children leave primary school unable to swim 25m it is unacceptable that there is no local provision of a learner pool.
“Not a single project [being] identified in Kettering demonstrates where our town sits in terms of priorities. The average life of a swimming pool built since the 1960s is 38 years. Kettering Swimming Pool is now 38-years-old and patching it up without a plan for its replacement is not going to work forever."
North Northamptonshire is in the Government’s priority one category and is submitting a bid for cash from round two of the Levelling Up Fund (LUF).
The bids will be discussed at next Thursday’s North Northamptonshire Council executive meeting at the Corby Cube where members will vote on whether to delegate to the LUF panel any future decisions on which schemes are taken forward.
Each scheme will also need to provide some external or council funding in order to get the go-ahead. The second round, which has a deadline of July 6, is focused on transport, regeneration and town centres, and culture.
Other Kettering bids which didn’t make the cut included a plan to relocate KGH outpatient facilities to empty town centre offices, a north-east to west cycleway linking Kettering’s Grange estate to Telford Way, the upgrade of the William Knibb Centre, the Grange shopping complex and a new family hub.
North Northamptonshire can submit up to four bids, each for up to £20m from the LUF.
A report set to be discussed by councillors acknowledged that there are no projects in Kettering or East Northants on the shortlist.
The report said: “However, there are specific projects, such as the Kettering Station Quarter Masterplan, an extension of the Greenway along the Ise Valley to Kettering and beyond, and emerging town centre regeneration proposals for towns such as Rushden and Higham Ferrers, together with others, which with further work have the potential to be prioritised by NNC for future bids via LUF or other funding streams.”