Herald Editorial on Len’s pools

The Herald editorial slams Len’s pools plan:

Mayor Len Brown has gone to some lengths to promote his plan to make Auckland’s municipal swimming pools free.

Having detected an “overwhelming sentiment” during the election campaign to replicate Manukau’s free pools across the city, he pumped up the proposal by making it part of his “100 projects in 100 days” programme.

Never mind that critics said there was no public call for free pools beyond Manukau, and that people were simply responding as they would to any free offer. The Mayor ploughed ahead regardless and sought confirmation of his view through a report from international consultancy KPMG.

I really wonder about that KPMG report, so does the Herald.

Unfortunately for Mr Brown, that report provides anything but solid backing. It puts the cost of free entry to the Auckland Council’s 24 pools at just $5.5 million, even though it cost $6.7 million to provide this to Manukau’s six pools when Mr Brown was mayor of that city.

This is completely contrary to suggestions that it would cost up to $50 million a year to provide such a service. The reason for the discrepancy is that, astoundingly, KPMG assumes free access would create an initial increase in use but that, in the long term, this would settle to around current levels, and that new revenue would be collected from spas, sauna, steam programmes, and retail sales.

Is anyone up for the audit services of KPMG now?

Mr Brown is sticking to his guns, saying he sees no need to doubt the study’s accuracy. Yet, even setting the dubious assumption on patronage aside, there is good reason to believe he should be rethinking his plan.

KPMG has based its figures on a projection from just six swimming pools. That, in itself, suggests thoroughness has been sacrificed in the interests of the Mayor’s wish for quick action.

Incredible that KPMG would risk their reputation with such apparently shoddy work.

Council pools are already heavily subsidised by ratepayers. Each visit to Manukau’s six free pools is estimated to cost ratepayers $3.76. Extending that largesse across the city would simply be too expensive, no matter the well-meaning urge to teach children to be safe and confident around water.

To that end, most people outside Manukau seem to find it no obstacle to pay something like $6 for adult entry and $3 for children. Others find it perfectly convenient to use Auckland’s many fine beaches to ensure their children learn water safety.

In that context, there seems little reason to extend free pools across the city. Given the uneven distribution of pools and all Aucklanders’ easy access to the waters of the Waitemata and the Manukau, a stronger case could be made for instituting full user charges. Better that than an option that ends up costing nothing like what people expected.

No doubt LGOIMA requests about all this will be met with secrecy, murk and lengthy delays.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.