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The opinions expressed on this page are mine alone. Any similarities to the views of my employer are completely coincidental.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Disgusted of Grandpont

I live in an Oxford Bildungsbürgetum ghetto, a few streets of overpriced Victorian and Edwardian terraces, close to the city centre, squeezed into a small area bounded by the river and the railway line. It's not a particularly physically attractive place, it's "inner city" with all the dis-amenity that implies. There is though one great advantage: approximately 150 metres from my front door is a park with a children's playground and a (publicly funded) open-air swimming pool.

For the last few years  I've enjoyed taking my daughter for an early morning swim either on a Saturday or a Sunday morning. The pool opens at 8.00 which is the perfect time to get in the pool on a sunny day. You can have your swim and be out by 9.00 with the rest of the day stretching ahead to do all the things that families like to do at the weekend.

Not any more. Turning up this morning for our first swim of the season we were blithely told that the pool was closed to non-members until 9.00. I wasn't the only "non member" who was both surprised and angry. Even more dismaying was the reaction of some of the  "members", brusquely pushing past us as we remonstrated with the manager, hissing that we were in their way.

Hinksey Open-Air pool is publicly owned and managed on behalf of Oxford City Council by Fusion. But now those that pay for this amenity through their council tax can only use it at certain times if they pay a hefty annual or monthly  fee to give them the privilege of early morning swimming without the presence of the hoi polloi. This is little more than the  purloining of a public amenity.

Of course we have to accept that public pools won't always be available to the general public.  Schools use them for swimming lessons, swimming clubs use them for early morning training and galas. Mostly though this doesn't interfere with reasonable access for joe public who is footing - at least part of  - the bill. It seems to me though that we are entering new territory when private recreational swimmers can buy themselves the exclusive use of a public amenity on a regular basis at the weekend.

I want to swim, with my child, at the weekend at 8.00 am (the offer of 7.00 am swimming on a school weekday isn't practical as any parent with a school run to do will tell you). I prefer to do that at my local, publicly owned pool. The only way I can do that is to dig deep into my pocket and join what seems to me to be little better than a middle-class enclosure movement stealing the commons.

Shame on Oxford City Council and shame on the ruling Labour group for countenancing this. I thought the point of public facilities was that they were for the commonweal. Clearly this is old, bad thinking.

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