On Saturday February 6th, the Save Victoria Baths campaign held a demo in protest at the council's plans to shut Victoria Leisure Centre on April 1st. The event was well attended and attracted a fair amount of media attention. Although the council seems to have made its decision, campaigners believe the fight is far from over. They will hand over a petition against the closure on Monday February 8th.
The campaign has also announced on its website that users of the Victoria Leisure Centre have formally threatened legal action against the council over its sudden announcement that the centre will be closing on April 1st. The legal action asks the council to withdraw the decision and keep the centre open whilst the planning process is undertaken, echoing the appeals of the campaign. London public law firm, Pierce Glynn are acting on behalf of the users, seeking a judicial review, accusing the council of failing to take into account the fact that no planning application has been submitted, that this process will take at least several months, and failing to take into account the impact this will have on users, especially disabled ones.
Saturday's protest formed up in the Market Square where Unison were also holding a protest against the council, specifically their planned budget cuts which will affect the service provided to older people and lead to job losses. The usual Trot groups were also out, flogging copies of their paper. These groups were all dwarfed by the impressive turnout. Numbers are always difficult to gague at demonstrations, but I would guess there were around 80 people in attendace. The Evening Post, however, reported "more than 100 campaigners."
Organisers had advertised 11.30am as the start time and the march, led by a small samba band, began at around 11.45am, much to the surprise of some hardened activists, unused to such extreme puntuality on demonstrations. The march made it's way from the Square, along Smithy Row, up to Pelham Road, onto Goose Gate, over Lower Parliament Street onto Gedling Street and then to the leisure centre.
The protesters were a noisy, diverse bunch. Publicity had called for people to "wear goggles and swimming hats" and a handful of protesters did. Others wore rubber rings around their neck or carried badminton rackets. Chants of "save our pool" were reinforced by a magaphone. Banners proclaimed, "Wheldon Boot School Says Save Our Pool," "Save Victoria Baths," "Anarchists against closure," and in one particularly candid instance, "City Council: LYING BASTARDS."
Once the march reached Sneinton Market, campaigners formed up in front of what appeared to be an unused market stall, adorned with balloons and campaign propaganda. Here the crowd was addressed by two speakers, one from the campaign and Councillor Tony Sutton of the LibDems.
The first speaker noted that the planning process necessary before any new leisure centre could be built would take a long time, not least because the proposed plans were not what most local people wanted. It was likely therefore that the area could be witout a leisure centre for 3 years, a long time for a child hoping to learn to swim. He noted that the campaign had already managed to save the centre not once, but twice and that the could do so again if sufficient people could be motivated to act. It was announced that campaigners would be meeting on Monday 8th February at 1.45 on the Council House steps so that the petition to save the centre could be handed into the council. This is to take place live on TV.
Tony Sutton was unequivocal in his criticism (unusually so for a LibDem). He told protesters that the council had been shaken by the campaign and been forced to change their mind. Where they had originally intended to simply close the centre, they now claimed they were going to replace it. Sutton noted that the cost of a new build was significantly more than the refurbishments advocated by campaigners and that the council's current plans made no financial sense. He committed himself to asking in a council meeting why the centre could not be kept open until any work started on the site. He noted that councillors are supposed to be elected to do what people want, not simply to tell people what they're going to do.
A planned third speaker, was not available and the protest was brought to a close, people being encouraged to examine the market stall which carried information about the council's proposals and the vision endorsed by the campaign and apparently supported by the local community before they left.