A council in Melbourne’s south-west has been urged to ditch plans for a lavish new $60 million pool complex, which locals say they don’t need, and the council can’t afford to build.

Hobsons Bay City Council voted last month to spend $2 million on design plans for the proposed Western Aquatic and Early Years Learning Centre in Altona Meadows, despite hundreds of residents signing a petition calling for an existing pool in the neighbouring suburb of Laverton to be refurbished instead.

Locals like Stephen Morgan, president of the Rainbow Club charity which supports disabled people to learn to swim, want the Laverton pool revamped instead of an expensive new facility.

Laverton resident Victoria Mikula, who presented the 784-signature petition to the council, said the existing pool was partly funded by residents in the 1970s and was an important part of the area’s history.

“Laverton is a low socio-economic area and for years the council has been slowly removing our services and relocating them to other suburbs,” she said. “Laverton pool is all we have left.”

The Rainbow Club, a charity that runs several weekly swim classes for disabled children and adults at the Laverton pool, said the new facility would not be suitable for its clients.

 “The new pool will be a loud, major aquatic centre in a fairly small space,” said Stephen Morgan, the founder of the club’s Point Cook chapter.

“It has too many distractions and too much noise, which doesn’t help people with neuro diverse challenges.”

The council plans to decommission the pool at Laverton’s Swim and Fitness Centre and redevelop it as a water play and youth facility, but without a pool.

Last year, then-mayor Peter Hemphill referred to a 2018 council review of the 50-year-old pool, and said it was not viable to redevelop it as a modern indoor aquatic centre. However, the same review found the pool could exist for another 30 years if properly maintained.

“Our city is growing – we’ll have about 112,000 residents by 2036,” Hemphill said in August. “The Laverton Swim and Fitness Centre has served our community well for decades, but it was not technically or financially prudent to redevelop it as a modern indoor aquatic and leisure centre.”

The council has committed $20 million to the new aquatic facility. The state government has promised another $10 million, leaving Hobsons Bay $30 million short of committed funds.

The council has also acknowledged the works could blow out by as much as 40 per cent. A 40 per cent increase on $60 million would be $84 million.

Hobsons Bay councillor Daria Kellander abstained from last month’s vote to spend $2 million on design plans for the centre because she wasn’t convinced the full funding would be secured.

“The council doesn’t have the money, yet it is pushing ahead as if this is something that is going to happen within the next five years,” Kellander said.

 “This is a very ambitious project and our ratepayers shouldn’t be treated like an open cheque book. The state and federal governments are clamping down now trying to cut costs, so I really don’t know where the council is going to get that money from.”

A spokesman for the council said it needed to invest in the pool design to secure funding from both state and federal governments.

“This level of commitment to the design phase is vital to ensuring we can accurately plan for project delivery once funding is secured,” he said. “Having the project ‘shovel-ready’ also gives us the best chance of obtaining state and federal funding for this major advocacy priority.”

The spokesman said the council would continue seeking state and federal funding despite budgetary constraints.

Dean Hurlston, vice president of ratepayer advocacy group Council Watch Victoria, slammed Hobsons Bay for pushing ahead with the pool design.

“The cost of the pool has now blown out to at least $84 million as disclosed recently in the council meeting,” Hurlston said.

“I see hundreds of these projects across Victoria, but I’ve never seen a council commit to a project with a $54 million shortfall. It’s very irresponsible.

“The fact that [Hobsons Bay Council] has now agreed to spend $2 million to draw up plans to try and apply for funding is just absolutely idiotic.”

Hurlston also criticised the council for refusing to release the business case for the pool to residents, about which he has complained to the ombudsman.

The ombudsman’s office said it could not confirm whether it was investigating the matter. The council also declined to provide a copy of the business case to The Age.

Source: https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/residents-fight-council-s-plans-for-absolutely-idiotic-60-million-pool-20230417-p5d0z4.html