THE leader of a community group in Minehead has spoken of his disappointment after West Somerset Council announced plans to sell off two sites to a supermarket and pub restaurant/hotel chain.
At a meeting councillors chose Lidl and Whitbread as preferred buyers for the former Aqua-splash site and land off Seaward Way.
The land off Seaward Way was originally earmarked for a new swimming pool after the closure of the Aquasplash pool in October 2007.
Peter Wellstood, a retired engineer from Porlock, who runs the Pro-Active Lifestyle and Swimming Water Activities Club has been looking into developing a new swimming pool for over 18 months now.
At the start of the council meeting he said he was ‘appalled’ by the council’s plans to sell to a supermarket and a pub chain.
He said: “I understand that the council have debts that they need to pay off but what upset me was the attitude of some of the councillors.
“It really wound me up.
“They say that this is a poorer area so people need somewhere cheaper to shop but if that is the case then why are they only building this now. We don’t need another pub and hotel either. It’s a ridiculous excuse.”
Peter believes a new swimming pool is something residents in West Somerset went and collected over 3,000 signatures in a week from Porlock to Williton of those in favour for a new swimming pool.
However at the council meeting, Cllr Kate Kravis, West Somerset Council’s lead member for finance, told Mr Wellstood that if he had come forward with a £4million funding package or a strong community group with a report on how to fund the pool, it would have been a different decision.
Mr Wellstood added: “I respect Kate and in some ways she is right but I’m in a Catch 22 situation here.
“I can’t start asking people for money until I have the land ... when I have the land I think people and grants will come in very quickly.
We have a strong business plan and I am working very hard to find the land.
“The council shouldn’t punish its residents – it isn’t our fault they have debts to pay off.”
Cllr Jon Freeman also believes the decision taken by the council means it was throwing away the district’s only chance of having a new swimming pool by selling the land to Lidl.
He was the only councillor to vote against the deals at last week’s meeting while 23 members voted in favour.
He said: “It is rather sad that this is a step back for plans for a new swimming pool and it once again shows West Somerset Council acting in the interests of West Somerset Council and not necessarily on behalf of West Somerset.
“It seems to be an established practice of West Somerset.”
However Cllr Freeman also said there were many factors that needed to be taken into consideration including the public demand of a swimming pool.
He added: “We closed the previous pool because it wasn’t paying its way and it probably won’t now – it’s about the economic demand as well as the community demand.
“The Government are intent on taking away more and more money from local councils; we just aren’t in a position to supply public services any more.”
Peter said he wasn’t going to give up trying to find land.
He added: “I don’t plan on giving up any time soon – a few councillors came up to me after the meeting and asked what they could do to help so I think there is a big need here.”
West Somerset Council agreed to consider selling off the sites earlier in the year to help pay off debts of £3.5 million.
It is unlikely that a decision on the sale of the land is to be made until early next year.