Cold feet over WACA pool plan

PERTH councillors may be getting cold feet over a state and federal government plan to put an aquatic centre in the WACA.

Their nervousness over being left with a hefty running and maintenance bill comes as Vincent council ponders how to keep Beatty Park Leisure Centre in good repair and Bayswater council prepares to seek grants to keep Bayswater Waves afloat.

The pool plan was flagged in the $1.5 billion Perth City Deal, an infrastructure program meant to link local, state and federal governments in big projects such as building a uni campus in the city. 

It involved a $100m overhaul of the WACA including a training facility and public gym.

In September last year the plan was supported by state-appointed commissioners running the City of Perth in lieu of suspended councillors.

They believed it would provide a facility for residents and bring in others and endorsed a $25m contribution, while the state and feds both pledged $30m. The WACA would put in $10m, and Cricket Australia $4m.

A feasibility report concluded fun water play elements like slides would bring in paying customers, with centres like Cockburn Arc turning into moneymakers. 

But now Perth councillors have a second study and lord mayor Basil Zempilas is demurring over the maintenance bill and the current design. 

On January 30 he told The West Australian (his employer) he’d like to see a pool in Perth “but not at any cost, it has to be a good pool and a good financial model.

“Right now it is neither. It’s a six-lane pool wedged between a light tower and the last row of seats at the cricket ‚Äì with no shade.”

The council report put the yearly maintenance bill at $1.4m. 

Premier Mark McGowan’s urged the council to see the deal through. 

Perth state Labor MP John Carey tells us the design’s not final and he’s hoping the council ends up happy and dives back in.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the city to get a public swimming pool, [and] also other aquatic facilities, in particular slides.”

He said the first report was done by the Pash Group, which ran the numbers ahead of Cockburn council building its Arc. That was so successful the council had to later expand it and it’s now a nice earner. 

“We need to build amenities for residents, like playgrounds, skateparks, dog parks, senior facilities, youth facilities,” Mr Carey said.

“The state government doesn’t accept the claim by the City of Perth that it would cost $1.4m a year.”

While he thinks this one will be profitable, he said “if the argument is the city should only run services that make a profit or are cost neutral, then on that basis they’d have to shut the library down.

“The library cost $60m to build and according to the last budget report, library services cost $5.8m each year.

“The reality is local governments run public services for residents and they do subsidise them,” Mr Carey said.

The councillors have yet to formally vote on a position. 

Mr Carey says apart from this issue “I’ve been having a really good relationship with the lord mayor and council”. 

He gave them props for the annual event schedule they’ve come up with and for adopting the “City of Neighbourhoods” approach, seeing the area as distinct neighbourhoods with different needs and not just a CBD with forgotten wings. 

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