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Friday, February 15, 2013

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Revealed: Deal to subsidise swimming sessions with taxpayers’ cash

SECRET COUNCIL HANDOUT PLAN FOR WATERWORLD BY ALEX CAMPBELL

alex.campbell@thesentinel.co.uk

A SECRET deal to shut Dimensions splash pool was agreed between senior council officers and WaterWorld owner Mo Chaudry, confidential documents have revealed. The full paper trail exposing negotiations in emails and letters between Mr Chaudry and Stoke-on-Trent City Council over the aborted 2008 closure plans has finally been disclosed to The Sentinel. It reveals a council director confirmed in an email to Mr Chaudry that the Burslem splash pool would close and £50,000 in taxpayers’ cash would be used to run a pilot scheme offering ‘free’ access for school-age children to WaterWorld in Festival Park. The city council has repeatedly denied that it had struck a deal with the businessman. In the email to Mr Chaudry, community services director Julie Seddon said: “Thanks for our meeting today. In summary, we agreed the following: Dimensions to close (Jan 08); run pilot to value of £50k for free access to WaterWorld for school age children.” Records of a Renew North

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Friday, June 6, 2008

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PAGE 27

U-turn again as schools won’t close

BY IAIN ROBINSON

iain.robinson@thesentinel.co.uk

THOUSANDS of protesters have won their fight to keep a leisure centre swimming pool open – after council chiefs messed up their sums. Stoke-on-Trent City Council had always stressed the closure of the splash pool at Dimensions leisure centre, Burslem, was justified because it would save the authority £60,000 a year. But councillors yesterday admitted the £60,000 figure does not exist. Councillor Mohammed Pervez, portfolio holder for community engagement, admitted: “The figure of the saving of £60,000 is not there, and therefore we cannot justify closing Dimensions splash pool.” The blunder emerged during a review of income streams and running costs for the entire Dimensions complex on Scotia Road, Burslem. Mr Pervez added: “The original decision was always dependent on a comprehensive review before any decision took place. That will continue.” Elected Mayor Mark Meredith had gone to Dimensions yesterday to tell staff their jobs were

FAMILIES were celebrating today after plans to close two primary schools were dropped following an outcry from staff and parents. Holden Lane Primary, in Sneyd Green, and Heron Cross Primary have been given the reprieve just weeks after Stokeon-Trent City Council announced they might shut. The closure options were part of a £70 million scheme to transform primary education across the city, with five schools also earmarked to be rebuilt. Holden Lane could have merged with New Ford Primary, in Smallthorne, while Heron Cross could have amalgamated with Blurton Primary. Heron Cross came under threat because it has a significant number of surplus places. But now some of its rooms could be used for other services, such as College in the Community classes. Andrew Whitehead, Heron Cross Primary’s vice-chairman of governors, said: “We are cock-a-hoop. It’s absolutely fantastic news.” Adrian Knapper, portfolio holder for children and young people’s services, confirmed the city council has decided not to proceed with the closures “for the time being”. He added: “We’ve listened to what people have to say and have taken on board their concerns.”

U-turn as council realises £60k saving doesn’t exist

POPULAR: Dimensions splash pool. Below, councillor Pervez.

safe because the £60,000 a year saving could not be found. He said: “We always said we would make the decision on Dimensions based on the clearest, most up-to-date financial information available and that it would be part of the review of community and leisure services. “It is clear from that review that the savings cannot be made.” The splash pool closure plan was announced in February as part of a raft of cost-cutting measures in this year’s budget. But Mr Meredith

today denied the U-turn casts doubt over the rest of the budget. He added: “We want to make sure that Stoke-on-Trent is recognised clearly as a city of sport and we want to make the best use of the assets we have.” Dimensions campaigner Hugh Irvine, who had presented a 7,000plus name petition to the council, said he was “relieved and mystified” by the announcement. He said: “I just wish the council had thought about the plans to close the splash pool a bit more before publishing them. “When we did our own research it quickly became very clear that the cost of closing the pool was at least £1 million, but when we told them, they wouldn’t listen.”

ONLINE TODAY

Our great sports

Do you trust the rest of the budget? Email us at letters@ thesentinel.co.uk

How closure sparked outrage: Page 16; Comment: Page 10

For more stories on the fight to keep the splash pool open, go to www.thisisthe sentinel.co.uk/dimensions

A STORM SEE PAGE 6

To see video showing off the best of Stoke-on-Trent’s sporting talent go to www.thisis thesentinel.co.uk/sportsawards

Staffordshire meeting held four months before the Dimensions closure was even made public state: “City council to develop a swimming contract with Mo in anticipation of future swimming facility shortages.” Meetings between Mr Chaudry and the council were facilitated by then Elected Mayor Mark Meredith, who is now a Labour cabinet member. He and Mr Chaudry, who saw Dimensions as a taxpayer-subsidised competitor to WaterWorld, worked together on the North Staffordshire Regeneration Partnership. Plans were at such an advanced stage that in early 2008 Mr Chaudry was in talks with the council over specific discounts at WaterWorld for city taxpayers and both parties had discussed announcing the scheme. But former council chief executive Steve Robinson later told Mr Chaudry no deal had been agreed, after

Mr Meredith made the closure plan public and faced a major backlash. Mr Robinson stated that the elected mayor, individual councillors and officers had no power to agree a deal without wider approval – prompting Mr Chaudry to threaten legal action. The council proposed to shut the pool to save £60,000 a year but withdrew the plans because it said the predicted savings could not be made. More than 7,000 residents had signed a petition against the closure. Mr Chaudry, Mr Meredith and senior councillor Roger Ibbs, who had been involved in the discussions, were later arrested on suspicion of committing various offences, but never charged. The council apologised to Mr Chaudry and paid him £21,850 to drop his legal threat in 2011, conceding simply that discussions had taken place. Mr Meredith said: “I am pleased the full story can now be told.” Mr Chaudry was unavailable for comment. The council was ordered to reveal the documents by an information rights tribunal.

What do you think? Email us at letters@thesentinel.co.uk Confidential documents: See Pages 6 and 7

TRAGEDY: Marilyn Cook died after a house fire in 1992.

Man arrested in America over 1992 murders A FORMER Stoke-on-Trent man has been arrested in the U.S. on suspicion of two murders dating back more than 20 years. The 44-year-old was arrested in connection with the deaths of Marilyn Cook and her son Nicholas Cook, who died following a house fire at their home in Travers Street, Middleport, on April 9, 1992. Despite speaking to more than 5,000 people during an investigation, Staffordshire Police never made an arrest. The suspect will now be extradited to the UK, a process which is expected to take a number of months. Ms Cook, aged 40, and Nicholas, aged 16, lived at the Travers Street property with Steven Hillman, Ms Cook's partner. He survived the fire but suffered serious injuries. He has since died, but not as a result of the blaze. The results of the postmortem examinations for Ms Cook and her son gave their cause of death as smoke inhalation. An inquest held at the time was told that the family had been under pressure to quit their home in the months leading up to the fire, after reportedly struggling with rent payments. The suspect, who was arrested on Tuesday, January 8, is to be extradited after detailed inquiries by Staffordshire Police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

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