Community has say on council pool closure recommendation

Potential pool closures: Lockington residents rallied at the local pool protest in 2019 at its planned closure.

The Campaspe Shire Council is set to make a decision on the future of seven outdoor swimming pools across the region on Wednesday night.

The recommendation being put forward is to close the Tongala, Stanhope, Rushworth, Colbinabbin and Lockington pools at the end of this summer, along with closing the Kyabram and Rochester pools at the end of the 2025 summer.

Council’s recommendation is being scrutinised and debated by the community.

Several meetings with councillors in attendance were held earlier in the week to discuss the measures.

Greater Shepparton City councillor Rob Priestly said the recommendation to close the pools was ultimately making room for a rethink on how they’re being run.

“The answer’s not to close them but to find a way to operate them in a cost-effective manner, and that would involve an amount of volunteer assistance,” he said.

“Councils are under mounting financial pressure and the easy option is to shut these facilities, but this calls for state or federal resources to help support council, and for council to go back and find some innovative models and run some more cost-effective ways so that the community can continue to have the facilities to keep their children safe.

“For the Federal Government it’s a golden opportunity to facilitate that, by helping support community groups with insurance, standardised training and capital grants for renewal.“

Campaspe Shire councillor Colleen Gates said a reason she ran for council lay in the concern over the sustainability of the shire’s smaller towns.

“Any proposal to rationalise an asset and/or service must not also strip away the fabric that attracts and upholds community life, otherwise there will be no towns and no shire,” she said.

“In my view, community input into the use, sustainability and accessibility of pools is really important and a step that cannot be missed. We also do need to acknowledge that there are likely to be some robust conversations over the coming months given the issues and concerns that need solving are complex and intertwined. If it was easy to fix we wouldn’t be where we are now!

“Closure is one option (as proposed by the officer report/recommendation) but my role requires me to remain open-minded, consider all available information to hand, listen to community feedback, and consider the debate and any alternative options put forward by my colleagues during the council meeting on Wednesday night.”

Past Stanhope Swimming Club president and prominent figure in the Stanhope community Bob Holschier said the decision was one that would affect the entire community for years to come.

Moving from Melbourne in 1964, Mr Holschier said the Stanhope swimming pool was an asset to the town.

“It was brand spanking new, our kids hadn’t learnt to swim because they hadn’t had the chance in Melbourne. The kids learnt everything they know about swimming in the Stanhope pool,” he said.

Without the pool, Mr Holschier said there was cause for concern of safe swimming practices.

“When we first came here before the pool, kids were doing the same things, swimming in the channels and rivers. Those channels can be dangerous and quite fast flowing, people drown in them,” he said.

“I wouldn’t like to swim parts of the Murray River now.

“Plus the fact other people are drowning, if kids don’t learn to swim it’s harder for adults to learn to swim, kids learn easier and quicker. In my son’s case it’s really stuck with him and become a major sport.”

Kyabram Development Committee chair Tania Chiswell said the group’s Facebook post from Kyabram Tomorrow, detailing the recommendation, gained huge amounts of engagement.

“We put a post out on Friday night once we heard about the closure (recommendation), the post reached 8833 people as of Sunday night, from that we have 50 pages of comments,” she said.

Ms Chiswell said the group had been approved for two representatives to speak at the council meeting on Wednesday night where they’ll present the community feedback, along with a statement from St Augustine’s College and a local resident.

“I think it’d be a huge asset loss to the town, not only to schools and people, but the kids won’t have the opportunity to use the pool, it’s much safer than swimming in the channels,” she said.