SWIMMERS can at last enjoy the pool facilities at William Penn Leisure Centre in Mill End from Tuesday, May 4 – two days before the local and general elections.
After more than two years of delay, the long-awaited announcement was made at a Three Rivers District Council (TRDC) meeting last night (20), as councillors yet again demanded answers about the total cost of the refurbishment.
Councillor Chris Whately-Smith, who was responsible for the running of the project, confirmed the building would be formally handed over to operators Hertsmere Leisure on April 30, before the official opening four days later.
He explained the pools have been filled with water and the final safety checks were taking place, before thanking residents and councillors for their patience.
But Conservative councillor Tony Barton, who it emerged has gambled £1,000 of his own money against a final bill of less than £10million for the project, called for Cllr Whately-Smith to resign.
Cllr Barton, who, if proved wrong will donate the cash to charity, said: "You have cost this council millions of pounds with your bad management of this scheme, which is the most diabolical we have ever entered into.
"This is catastrophe and in any other organisation you would have been sacked."
Cllr Whately-Smith said a full and thorough investigation will be carried out by an auditor to establish the reasons behind the delays.
As reported in the Gazette, work began at the leisure centre, in Shepherds Lane, in March 2007, with the £4.6million project due for completion a year later.
But it was plagued by problems which the Liberal Democrat administration have blamed on a series of setbacks with construction workers.
The council has been coy about the exact cost of the revamp, amid fears of affecting a potentially costly legal battle with the original contractors, Gee Construction Limited, who were axed last February.
But the Conservative party have claim the costs have spiralled to £8million – more than double the estimate.
As a result of the two year delay, the tax payer has also been forced to pay £16,000 per month – a total of £384,000 or the equivalent of about £533 every day – to Hertsmere Leisure for lost revenue.
Cllr David Sansom, leader of the Conservative group said the decision to open the pool two days before the election was undoubtedly political.
He told the Gazette: "I think it is a cynical move by the council but the most important thing is that the pool facilities will open, which I am delighted about.
"Although I am hopeful, I think it will be difficult to recuperate the huge costs involved and the council may find itself struggling against the construction company in the high court.
"As a result, I am concerned that people will find themselves paying more to use the leisure facilities, which is very unfair considering the burden the taxpayer has already had to bear."
Councillor Ann Shaw, leader of TRDC, last night promised to provide councillors with a written answer on how much money has been spent on legal advice for the court battle.
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