Remember Leith Waterworld?
This was a unique facility at the foot of Leith Walk – a swimming pool with shallow areas and room to play. Edinburgh Leisure had nothing else like it. Leith Waterworld was closed in January 2012, and sold to a commercial property developer in May 2013. Nothing has been done with the site since: it’s just another greyzone area in Leith.
The decision to sell the site for a million pounds to a property developer was defended by the SNP councillor for Colinton / Fairmilehead, Richard Lewis, who is now the City culture and sport convenor, as “we had to be realistic” since a property developer will promise to develop the site as a soft-play area and generate 80 jobs [which did happen eventually…] whereas Splashback, the community campaign to re-open Leith Waterworld, was “a long punt”. (By December 2014, the main sign of that promised “substantial investment” in the area was a pile of dangerous rubbish left outside the Leith Waterworld building for over a week: the property developer, based in Glasgow, professed themselves entirely unaware of the rubbish heap.)
As I wrote in September 2012:
Leith Waterworld was a treasure: a pool designed for all children, for disabled adults, for family use. Closing it down means fewer children will be swimming regularly, learning to have confidence in the water, discovering they love to swim. It’s ironic that this should be Edinburgh’s Olympic & Paralympic memorial: closing a pool that fostered the love of swimming.
Alison Johnstone, Scottish Green MSP for the Lothians (and at the time, also the Green councillor for Meadows / Morningside) said in December 2011:
“I think a loss of such a unique facility is a loss for the whole city and beyond.”
“I think its unfortunate that we’re having to fund Commonwealth Games facilities with local community assets. That’s something that we cannot continue to do and it’s not sustainable.
“We’ll never have elite athletes if we don’t have the grassroots facilities, and I’m very concerned that the terms of an earlier council motion have been disregarded because it’s seen as inconvenient – it sets a truly scary precedent.”
Before May 2012, the City culture and sport convenor was Deidre Brock, the SNP councillor for Leith Walk and now MP for Edinburgh North and Leith. Deidre Brock’s response to the Scottish Green protests against Leith Waterworld’s closure was to accuse the Scottish Green councillors of “political opportunism”.
Deidre Brock supported the closure of Leith Waterworld: the Splashback campaign blog notes a letter she wrote to the Scotsman in December 2011 correcting what she perceived as factual inaccuracies in the case for keeping Waterworld open.
On Thursday, 22nd December 2011, one of the Splashback campaigners wrote in their blog:
“We are very disappointed and astonished that the Council have not been able to meet their commitment to the people of Edinburgh to keep Leith Waterworld open until the Royal Commonwealth Pool is fully reopened to the public. We are extremely concerned that the administration have not followed due process, particularly in relation to fostering equality in the city.
Cllr Brock did not want to go into details today. Is she, or indeed the council, in possession of the full facts? This SNP/Lib Dem administration is making decisions about service provision for children and the disabled in Leith based on innuendo and rumour. Over the three weeks the administration have refused to engage with the campaign and provide full and fair information. Cllr Brock has repeatedly provided different and misleading details on the costs and the lack of consultation with the community.”
In her maiden speech in the House of Commons yesterday, Deidre Brock did not mention Leith Waterworld explicitly, nor acknowledge her part in its closure: she rose to respond to a motion on Opposition Day, on the “squandering of the London Olympic Legacy”.
Given the amount of infrastructure spending that was denied other areas of the UK, as we have heard, to be focused on London for those games, some of us may be forgiven for asking whether the legacy in question should be thought of as a positive one.
I shall be generous, though, and leave that aside, and say that creating the next generation of athletes, elite and otherwise, and improving the health and wellbeing of our people cannot be done unless there is investment in facilities, in coaching provision, and in society.
That’s very true. But, when Edinburgh councillors stood up for investment in facilities to create the next generation of athletes – for children of Edinburgh and the Lothians to learn joy and confidence in swimming in a facility specially designed for their needs – Deidre Brock was not one of them: she called this “political opportunism”.
[Correction: In an earlier version of the blog I wrote that the soft play area proposed in 2012 hadn’t opened yet. I’m happy to correct the mistake: Jungle Adventures Edinburgh is now open.]