Tauranga City Council has been urged to use common sense and solve the issue of over-staffing instead of trying to save money by cutting the opening hours of swimming pools.

A straight-talking Sheryl McLay delivered some no-nonsense advice near the end of four days of submissions to the council's Annual Plan - submissions that frequently featured pleas from swimming clubs and other aquatic sports desperate to avoid the impact that reduced hours would have on their activities.

Ms McLay is the head coach for Team Shorebreak Aquatic Sports and Triathlon Club and used her daily observations of running programmes at Baywave to suggest other ways to save money.

She questioned why four lifeguards needed to be on duty when public attendance was low at Baywave after 7pm, and accused the council of using its Pool Safe requirements as an excuse to not make changes.

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"We have one lifeguard for every one-and a-half public users ... common sense tells us that you don't need four lifeguards."

Ms McLay's observations were supported by what other submitters had observed at council pools. By far the biggest users later in the evening were swimmers involved in coaching programmes and she questioned why so many council lifeguards needed to be on duty, particularly when many coaches were qualified lifeguards.

There were many times after 7pm when the public space at Baywave was used so poorly that it could be closed to the public but kept open to club and squad members who used swipe cards to get in.

The council could then reduce lifeguards from four to one and send the receptionist home earlier.

Ms McLay asked the fundamental question of why organised groups were being tied into the same package as the public. It was time to start talking sensibly about what could be achieved. "Surely there is scope to separate public/casual opening hours and squad/club activities," she said. Quizzed about the council organised pool users forums, Ms McLay said people fought for their own, along the lines of 'my sport is more important than yours'. She described the council's Aquatics Strategy as "rubbish and not a strategy at all", saying the council needed a philosophy that defined its role and social responsibility to provide aquatic services.

Co-operation was needed to find solutions to pool space issues instead of the historical approach of using confrontation and conflict to set groups against each other, she said.

Her submission sparked Councillor Clayton Mitchell to hit out at the council's bureaucracy, saying common sense should be called uncommon sense.

John Cousins

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