Campaigners furious at council bid to de-list Oasis

By Barrie Hudson - 21 September 2022

Community

A Swindon Borough Council move which could see the Oasis Leisure Centre dome demolished has drawn the ire of preservation campaigners.

Late last year year the iconic pool and dome at the centre were listed by heritage body Historic England, effectively ruling out demolition and replacement.

Leaseholders SevenCapital had previously unveiled a plan to replace much of the structure, which opened in 1976, with a new facility.

The borough council's Conservative group has now announced an effort to have the Oasis de-listed, which it says will make renovation and reopening easier.

Although any official move must be made by SevenCapital, it would have the Conservative Group's approval.

Council leader Cllr David Renard said: "The issue, as we know, is that since the listing took place it has added significantly to the cost to SevenCapital to refurbish [the Oasis] and bring it back to sustainable use.

"Given the significant viability issues that they are facing, it does seem to me that nobody wants to see the Oasis left in its current state, and the best way to bring it back into use would be to remove the listing altogether or significantly reduce the conditions required."

Cllr Renard pointed out that before the listing, SevenCapital had a potential operator lined up, but that it would be difficult under the current restrictions to find an operator.

The Save Oasis Swindon Campaign, which wants to see the centre restored rather than replaced, describes itself as angry but not surprised at the latest development.

It issued a statement saying: “Swindon Borough Council are arrogant to think they can make listing decisions and de-listing decisions, when in fact that is the role of Heritage experts at Historic England, and the former Secretary of State, who approved the listing recently.

“Both the Oasis pool and dome were grade II listed for their special architectural and historic interest by Historic England. It is the last surviving of its type left in England. To quote the listing report, it is now the earliest surviving leisure pool in England, with its sophisticated and architecturally striking dome structure which provides a dramatic setting for the pool within. The listing report also described the Oasis as being carefully planned by the architects to create an interesting and attractive leisure environment.”

“We are confident that the council will fail in their efforts to get the Oasis de-listed, having spoken to the Twentieth Century Society, as it is very difficult to de-list buildings. The listing happened only nine months ago, with valid reasons and justification. The dome is still in sound condition, and the Oasis would only be removed from the listing register if it no longer held architectural or historical interest, which clearly isn’t the case.

“Tory Councillors tried to prevent the listing last year by wrongly saying the Oasis wasn’t worthy of listing, going against heritage experts. They are now trying to get the building delisted in desperation. The Oasis is a key part of Swindon’s heritage, and the Council have a poor track record of maintaining their assets, and in particular the Oasis building over the years.  They are still in denial about the Oasis listing, nearly a year later. 

“It still meets the full listing criteria. Nothing has changed and the grade II listing will stand. Historic England only de-list buildings in exceptional circumstances. They are just looking to reduce their costs at the expense of our heritage." 

The organisation added: “There is no reason why SevenCapital and Swindon Borough Council cannot fully restore the iconic Oasis and make the current building energy efficient and viable with new dome panels and solar energy. Seven Capital are already about to start work on the current building to see how they can restore it, so the news about the attempts to de-list the Oasis is contradictory. 

“We want both leisure and heritage preserved in Swindon. The Levelling Up Fund will help with the costs. The people of Swindon want a fully restored and reopened Oasis – trying to de-list it will only kick the can down the road and delay reopening further. Accept the listing and get on with the restoration, nothing will change that fact. The listing preserves the leisure footprint on the site. Ultimately, SevenCapital want to build as many houses as possible around it.

“Only in June this year, [council leader] Cllr David Renard described the Oasis as an ‘important landmark’, and now he wants to try and de-list it. The listing not only protects the dome, but the Lagoon pool too.

“The Oasis is a vital asset to Swindon and a key part of our cultural heritage and that is why it was listed in the first place. If the Council hadn’t neglected it and outsourced it, the Oasis would still be open today. Our campaign is going nowhere.”

Swindon's Labour Group has criticised the administration over the de-listing call.

Cllr Adorabelle Shaikh, the Shadow Cabinet Lead for Community and Culture, said: "The Labour Group position on the Oasis is very clear, we want to see the Oasis reopened as soon as possible for the residents of Swindon to use.

"It is very disappointing to see that Seven Capital and the Conservative administration have clearly made no progress on this since the listing, in the same way that they have made no progress on the Snow Dome over the last seven years.

"The Conservative administration are now flailing around trying to find new ways to save their own skin. Their decision to sign a contract with developers that gave away control of the leisure centre is the real failing here - not the decision of Historic England to list the building."

Cllr Shaikh added: "The decision to offload the town’s leisure assets has led to the closure of the small pool at the Health Hydro, the closing of Highworth golf course and a failed plan to build hundred of houses on it, the potential loss of the nine-hole course at Broome Manor, and, most shameful of all, the closure of the Borough’s flagship leisure attraction, the Oasis.

"The dome is iconic and its listing gave hope campaigners that the facility might be saved. Ultimately, people in Swindon will just want to get leisure facilities back up and running but they are being failed by a council that doesn’t know what it’s doing.

"We have had no transparency from Seven Capital or the Conservative Administration. We have no idea of the state of inside of the building or how much it will realistically take to reopen the pool. We want the Administration to finally start being honest with the people of Swindon, sharing the information and having a real consultation about what the options are surrounding the dome and how long each option will take. 

"The people of Swindon own the Oasis, no matter how long a lease the Council granted Seven Capital, and they should decide on its future.

"The Conservatives are terrible at engaging with people, as evidenced by the recent Peer Review report. They need to step up, commission some independent reports and hold a proper engagement process to see how to proceed.

"They also need to understand the reasons behind the listing and should work with Heritage England, the 20th Century Society and the local Save the Oasis Campaign team to understand their positions as part of the engagement process."

 

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