Details have been set out of a major investment package to protect the future of Manchester Aquatics Centre while improving its facilities and reducing its carbon footprint.
The Aquatics Centre was built in 1999 and opened in 2000, playing a key role in the 2002 Commonwealth Games. It has since gone on to welcome more than 10 million users (more than 500,000 a year) - making it one of the busiest swimming centres in the country.
Its role in Manchester is so significant that it meets the equivalent demand of six community swimming pools.
The centre runs at a profit, generating revenue which has been reinvested in supporting leisure facilities for Manchester people and having an overall economic impact for the city of more than £4m a year.
Since hosting events the 2002 Commonwealth Games, it has hosted high profile events such as The Duel In The Pool in 2009 and an array of British and international championships. In 2019 alone it welcomed almost 19,000 competitors and spectators. In 2023 it is due to host the World Paralympic Swimming Championship.
But after two decades of intensive use, a number of mechanical and electrical failures are starting to occur as parts of the building’s fabric begin to reach the end of their natural lifespans. Without significant investment, this would result in an increasing number of unplanned closures, cause the withdrawal of some services and make permanent closure of the flagship facility a serious threat.
Detailed survey and investigation works over the past year has established that it will cost almost £31m to address these issues, refurbish the building and incorporate green technologies. Councillors are being asked to back a plan to invest in these improvements.
The pool treatment plan and pool lighting both need replacing, as do the moveable floors. Heating and electrical systems must be upgraded, lifts require refurbishing and the spa facility also needs to be replaced.
Factors contributing to the need to act now include the sheer volume of use of the building, the climate in the pool hall which has caused corrosion, and the fact that the ‘life expectancy’ of some of the innovative technologies used when the Aquatics Centre was unknown at the time.
It is also envisaged that underused parts of the building will be repurposed to improve health and fitness facilities and further increase opportunities to generate income.
Councillor Luthfur Rahman, Executive Member for Culture and Leisure, said: “This one-off investment will ensure that Manchester Aquatics Centre maintains its place as one of the leading aquatics venues in the UK for the next 20 years and more.
“This flagship facility is somewhere that everyone from beginners and school classes to Olympians and Paralympians can benefit from.
“Leisure has a crucial role to play in Manchester’s recovery from the social, health and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It would be unthinkable to allow this key element of the city’s overall swimming provision, which also contributes to our global sporting reputation, to wither and die. But that is what would be likely to happen without serious investment.
“Delaying a decision to invest would only cost the city more in the coming years. Ongoing maintenance costs would rocket. Vital facilities for Manchester people and revenue for the city would be lost as building, mechanical and electrical failures caused more and more unscheduled closures.
“Instead we can grasp the opportunity to protect and improve the Aquatics Centre, bringing it up to the very latest standards and using green technologies to reduce its carbon footprint by 40 per cent, contributing towards the city’s drive to cut carbon emissions and saving on energy costs.”
Under the plans, carbon reduction technologies will be used wherever possible to replace worn-out elements of the building. These include ground source and air source heat pumps, LED lights and the use of solar PVs on the roof and will together deliver an estimated carbon saving of at least 750,000kg a year.
If agreed by the Council’s Executive when it meets on Wednesday 20 January and the full Council on Wednesday 3 February, the work will take place on a phased basis over two and a half years to minimise disruption and ensure that access to at least one pool is maintained throughout.
The Council’s capital budget would be increased by £0.7m in 2020/21, £8.5m in 21/22 and £21.2m in 2022/23. The bulk of this (£29.1m) would be funded through borrowing, with another £1.3m through capital receipts (land/building sales.)