Councillor accused of Leith Waterworld ‘betrayal’

Richard Lewis. Picture: Greg Macvean
Richard Lewis. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A FLIP-FLOPPING councillor who backpedalled on a pledge to “preserve” Leith Waterworld has been accused of betrayal as dismay about its closure reached the benches of Holyrood.

City culture and sport convenor Councillor Richard Lewis has been rapped for reneging on a vow to back a community takeover of the leisure pool and selling it instead to A&G Property Group in a £1 million deal.

Waterworld. Picture: TSPL

Waterworld. Picture: TSPL

Pressure group Splashback, which has campaigned to reopen the pool under community ownership, said it was “infuriated and dismayed” that councillors had pulled the plug on the plans after committing £125,000 to support a feasibility study until December.

But they singled out Cllr Lewis, claiming they had been “brutally betrayed” in a move than sounded the death knell on community engagement.

The convenor’s earlier vow contrasts starkly with his current position to champion the sale of the facility. In the City Chambers on January 31, he said: “We owe it to the people of Edinburgh to do everything to preserve this valuable community asset.”

But just four months later, he said: “It’s not acceptable to say ‘let’s hold off for a bit because something might turn up’. That’s an attitude that seems to me wilfully ignorant of the wider economic predicament of both the city and the council.”

Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone has now lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament regretting the loss of Leith Waterworld.

The £1.3m conversion into a “state-of-the-art” soft play centre is expected to generate more than 80 jobs, while the coalition moved to dampen community anger by committing £125,000 to primary-age swimming initiatives.

But the quick-fire sale brings down the curtain on 15 months of campaigning by Splashback volunteers.

During a heated debate to seal the pool’s fate, Cllr Chas Booth, of the Edinburgh Greens, the only party to oppose the sale, said: “Cllr Lewis was right in January and the words he spoke are still true today.”

He later said: “What has changed since January is that the council has been bought and sold for A&G gold. They have been approached by a commercial property developer with an eye for a profit. But that profit comes at the expense of reneging on a commitment made in January to a community group.”

Speaking to the News, Cllr Lewis said it would have been irresponsible to turn down the offer. He said it had been a choice between a substantial investment in the area or the “slim possibility” of being able to reopen Waterworld.

He added: “I was absolutely behind giving them the opportunity to pull off a miracle, but we had to be realistic. I don’t believe it would have been responsible to go for a long punt.

“I understand this is an emotional issue, but in the end you have to go with your head rather than your heart.”

Ms Johnstone’s motion also commends the Splashback campaign and says the council’s decision to divert money into primary-age swimming will not compensate for the permanent closure of the pool.