Ensuring our children can learn to swim is a compelling reason why delays cannot continue in building a state-of-the-art, inter-generational aquatic complex.

This is not a vanity project, it's a solution to an ongoing community request. Currently, with more schools closing their pools, demand for swimming lessons is outstripping supply, creating a situation where children are unable to learn to swim.

Napier needs a new facility – it needs to be done once and done properly – sooner rather than later. Tacking on new components to an existing facility is never ideal. People may remember the old 50m pool at Onekawa was filled in because of huge leakage issues and was never replaced by the Council of the day. It begs the question why?

After our community consultation about Napier's aquatic needs, an investigation uncovered serious risks with constructing a new complex at Onekawa.

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This included contamination from an old landfill, with the confirmed presence of lead and arsenic and the likely presence of asbestos.

Napier's acting mayor Faye White says there's a raft of reasons the new aquatic facility should go ahead. Photo / Supplied
Napier's acting mayor Faye White says there's a raft of reasons the new aquatic facility should go ahead. Photo / Supplied

Experts advised that potential health risks existed if the contaminated soil was dug up, posing particular risks to the young and very old. We have a kindergarten and Plunket centre on the Onekawa site, and we are simply not prepared to risk our community's health by constructing here. We need to accept unbiased advice rather than thinking we know better.

Agreeing to an uncapped budget would be necessary if we built at Onekawa, due to it being impossible to quantify the cost of keeping residents safe during construction and disposal of the contaminated soil.

The new facility will be based on Christchurch's QEII complex, which was the model that was consulted on in the pre-Long Term Plan public engagement.

This design is based on a population of 60,000 and exactly meets Napier's needs. The lap pool will have more lane space and be larger than Onekawa's Ivan Wilson Pool and the Old Pool combined. It will have a "floating floor" – making it shallower for less confident swimmers, whilst providing capability for water-polo and underwater hockey.

Why aren't we building a 50-metre pool? Aside from the fact that one is ear-marked for the Hawke's Bay Regional Sports Park, it's also worth noting that 50-metre pools are the old way of meeting a provincial region's aquatic needs.

The modern way factors in all user groups and takes advantage of the flexibility provided by separate pools. A 50-metre pool is only useful to a small sector of our community a handful of times a year.

Ensuring the new complex is accessible to all is vitally important. Our plans include "gold standard" accessibility for people with physical challenges. Contrasting paint schemes will assist the vision-impaired. There will be braille signage, mobility aid parking areas, "wet" wheelchairs and ramp access to all pools.

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Accessibility is also about making sure cost and travel time don't stop anyone from coming. The entry fees will be the same as that at Onekawa. We are having conversations with Hawke's Bay Regional Council to introduce a bus route that stops off-street, right outside the pool's door. Compare this to the 500-metre walk from the nearest bus stop to the current aquatic centre. There will also be more than 100 extra off-street parking spaces.

There is a perception that a large proportion of current users will be disadvantaged due to no longer being able to walk to the pools. In fact, 92 per cent of Napier Aquatic Centre's current customers drive there.

There have been comments that Council is putting the aquatic facility ahead of important priorities, such as upgrading our water network. Water projects have their own budget and resources and we have committed more money to this vital work. The money being spent on an aquatic facility does not take away money budgeted for other projects. Our Annual Plan indicated that we will bring forward essential water projects.

Moving to this new site means we will not be without a pool during the 18-20 month construction period. Being without a pool for that long would seriously impact many groups, such as learn to swim classes, clubs and those who use it for leisure and play.

A council, once elected, is within itself a democracy. All councillors get the opportunity to have a say, and once the issue has been voted on, the decision is made.

As it happens, there were a series of democratic decisions over a year to get to the point where the option consulted on in the long term plan could progress towards construction. It is disappointing to me that some councillors have wanted to re-litigate decisions already made. This tends to undermine public confidence in the project and inevitably leads to delay. With delay comes increased cost.

This project has got to this point after a lot of hard work by Council and independent experts, with input all the way from our community. We are ready to deliver – we just need to clear the final hurdle.

It is ironic that the construction of the Ivan Wilson complex in 1997 faced significant public opposition. I am looking forward to seeing this project completed and I know the residents of future Napier will be grateful for the bold and visionary decision that was voted for by our current Council.

* Faye White is acting mayor of Napier.