Under the terms of the Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme, where a swimming pool project is being undertaken by an organisation other than a local authority, the proposal must be considered, supported and submitted by the relevant local authority. Before supporting such a project, the local authority would have to be satisfied that the proposal is viable, that the balance of funding required to complete the project is available and that the project, when completed, would have a satisfactory level of public access and that social inclusion aspects are addressed.
In 2004, Galway County Council submitted a tender to my Department seeking grant aid under the Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme for a project promoted by a private sector interest to construct a leisure centre, including a swimming pool, on a council site different to that initially recommended in a Feasibility Report prepared by the Council in 1999. The formal procedures under the programme are that Ministerial approval is required at each of the Preliminary and Contract Document stages, before tenders are invited for a project. Notwithstanding the fact that Galway County Council pursued an alternative approach to the procurement of the facility, my Department indicated to the County Council that it would be prepared to examine a detailed proposal on its merits. My Department's main concern in such cases is to ensure that the normal characteristics of a public swimming pool, such as public access and social inclusion considerations are adequately catered for.
Galway County Council has been in contact with my Department in order to progress the project and a formal detailed proposal, agreed between the Council and the promoter, was made by the Council in June 2006. Given the need to protect the State's interest arising from any grant aid awarded under the programme, my Department is having the legal aspects involved examined at present in consultation with the Chief State Solicitor's office.
On the general question of private sector involvement in the programme, it is a matter for local authorities to devise funding and operational arrangements, as they see fit, in relation to the provision of public swimming facilities in their areas. Experience shows that there is some potential for private sector involvement in the provision and operation of public swimming pools and some local authorities are exploring various ways of involving the private sector in their projects. From my Department's perspective, there is no objection to the involvement of the private sector in the provision and/or management of public swimming pools. However, in order to qualify for grant assistance under the programme, local authorities must satisfy themselves and the Department that the project meets the generally accepted operational considerations of a public pool in terms of public availability, charges, access for disadvantaged etc. This is normally achieved in consultation with the appropriate County or City Development Board.