Brown wants free pools for all

By Bernard Orsman

Mt Albert Aquatic Centre. Photo / Supplied
Mt Albert Aquatic Centre. Photo / Supplied

As Aucklanders continue to head to the water to cool off in the summer heat, Mayor Len Brown is keen to extend the free-swimming-pools policy in Manukau to the whole city.

Mr Brown is commissioning a report on the cost, equity and fairness of making all of Auckland's 23 council-owned pools free.

Adults pay between $3.10 and $7.80 at six of the pools, and up to $25 for a family. Last year, 1.8 million people used Manukau's six free pools at a cost to ratepayers of $6.76 million, or $3.76 a visit.

The plan is part of his "100 projects in 100 days" programme aimed at building a sense of momentum since he became mayor of the Super City on November 1.

With yesterday marking the 75th day, Mr Brown said the Christmas break meant he had announced only about 50 projects but was confident of reaching his target by February 8.

He said he was responding to an "overwhelming sentiment" across Auckland picked up during the election where people saw Manukau's policy as one they would love to have.

Once the report was completed, Mr Brown said, he would make a decision about including the idea in the 2012 long-term plan on which the public would be consulted.

Free entry could start in July 2012.

Citizens & Ratepayers co-leader Christine Fletcher said the council should be looking at policies to ensure children could swim, but doubted whether it could afford free pool entry.

"I do not want to be part of misleading the public. At the moment we have a funding gap just for our current level of services," she said.

Water Safety New Zealand general manager Matt Claridge welcomed the idea.

He said the real benefit arose from learn-to-swim initiatives, but he hoped charges would not rise to help compensate for the free entry.

Mr Claridge had concerns over free pools leading to complacency among school boards of trustees considering the options of keeping school pools open. School swimming pools are disappearing as trustees sacrifice the expense of water safety to meet tight budgets. Since 1999, school boards have closed 127 pools, and another 158 pools have closed due to school closures.

New Zealand has 1602 pools at 2338 state schools, according to Ministry of Education figures.

Mr Brown also said he was confident of keeping rate rises in the area of high 3 per cent to high 4 per cent next year - a stretch of his election promise to keep rates low and near the rate of inflation, projected at 3.4 per cent.

He said one factor that could compromise the already tight budget was the new funding deal for leaky homes.

*Auckland pools Manukau - 6 pools (free)
*Auckland City - 10 (adult fees $5.60-$7.80)*
*North Shore - 3 ($5-$6)
*Waitakere - 1 ($6.20)
*Rodney - 1 ($5.10)
*Papakura - 1 $3.10)
*Franklin - 1 ($4.50) (Figures for the former seven Auckland councils)
* Grey Lynn paddling pool is free.

- NZ Herald

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