Battle over pool siting divided Sidmouth in 1990

Indifference and opposition in battle to build Sidmouth’s swimming pool

THE decision, driven by Alderman Ted Pinney, to site Sidmouth swimming pool on the Ham was controversial and devisive.

Demands in 1990 for an even bigger one were countered by the hoteliers association which denounced the decision as “pure folly” and called on the district council to delay building. It was a nonsense, they argued, to plonk a pool piecemeal in the middle of the Ham until a development plan had been drawn up for the whole area.

As argument raged, the late Stuart Townsend, chairman of the Town Guide committee, warned: “Stop rocking the boat or the entire project could be abandoned.” But the Ham was where the �1.2 million pool was built.

It left a bitter taste with Roger Ashby, chairman of the Sidmouth Pool Society which had battled so long to bring a pool to the town. He accepted it as the best option. But at the official opening he said the council had been ‘shamed’ into it. He stands by that remark today.

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He does, however, acknowledge Alderman Pinney’s decisive role, just as Tom Fraser, then chairman of the EDDC amenities committee, today pays tribute to Mr Ashby and to Geraldine James, named Sidmouth Citizen of the Year for her unstinting work for a pool.

“There was indifference and opposition and it was the vigorous campaign and tremendous fund raising they carried out over a number of years that, together with the town council’s financial commitment, addressed the district council and persuaded it to accept the idea of another pool for East Devon,” Mr Fraser said this week.

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“But, make no mistake, Ted Pinney was the kingpin behind it all. He was going to have that pool on the Ham whatever happened and when he appointed me chairman of amenities he said ‘I am giving you this position because I want a swimming pool in Sidmouth and I want it done without any delay.’

“We then faced a lot objection from other district councillors who were concerned another pool would impact on the usage of those at Honiton and Exmouth.

“We persuaded the council to carry out a feasibility study which, in the consultant’s opinion, found that a new pool would not impact adversely because there was clearly demand and need for one in Sidmouth.

“It’s all largely forgotten now and back then was another time. We had the funds and we were spending millions on sporting facilities throughout East Devon. It couldn’t happen in today’s economic climate. But, as I look back, I was extremely pleased to be part of the team that obtained a pool for the town and I take pride in seeing it used by so many including my own grandchildren who learned to swim there.”

That’s a feeling familiar to Mr Ashby who occasionally calls in at the pool where a photo of him presenting the council with a cheque for �20,000, the residue of the appeal fund, was up on the wall for many years.

“I don’t even like swimming myself,” he says. “But that pool would not have been there without the Sidmouth Pool Society and the team around it. They are too numerous to mention. But they know who they are.

“What gives me so much pleasure is seeing so many using it today knowing that we did it for the town.”

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