The Daylesford Indoor Aquatic Center advocacy group (DIAC) is both pleased and disappointed with the Draft Aquatic Strategy document recently received by Council and currently open for public comment.

“We’re pleased that the Aquatic Strategy recognises the need for council to start planning for an indoor aquatics facility,” said Mark Rak, President of DIAC. “However, we feel that the timelines are far too long and the consultants have failed to make concrete recommendations about the location of a facility.”

The Aquatics Strategy, which cost $80,000, makes recommendations for further consultancies totalling between $240,000 and $390,000 and expenditure of $5.7 million to $7.7 million on OH&S compliance and pool upgrades.

The strategy recommends that planning be started for an indoor aquatics facility but the Mayor, Cr Tim Drylie, has indicated that the Council does not have sufficient funds to implement the strategy. Indoor facility planning would cost between $40,000 and $80,000.

“We believe that Council should, as a first priority, fund the recommended feasibility study and business case for an indoor facility,” said Mr Rak.

The Strategy is silent on the location of an indoor aquatic centre but the consultants recognised that the Daylesford/Hepburn community has the largest population and is further from an indoor facility outside the Shire than any other community in the Shire. A catchment map published in the Draft Strategy shows that half of the Creswick township is within the Ballarat Aquatic Centre catchment.

The vision of the Strategy is to “provide sustainable, affordable and accessible aquatics facilities that brings Hepburn residents together to enjoy health, wellbeing and leisure experiences”.

“That’s fine as far as it goes,” said DIAC secretary, Tim Bach, “but broad interpretations can be applied to those words. We need some clarity about what is meant by the vision statement.  ‘Accessible’ is sometimes defined through the very limited lens of disability but facilities should be accessible to the whole community. That means accessible year round, not just on summer days that are above 21°C. That means accessible within a 20 minute drive; otherwise research shows that people won’t use it.  It means accessible to children and elderly, to teenagers and adults, to people who work and people who are retired and to people living with disabilities. Different users have different requirements. They can pour $8 million into the existing Shire pools and they still won’t be ‘accessible’.”

Based on entry data published in the strategy, residents use one of the Shire pools about 1.4 times per year suggesting that the facilities are underutilised.

The Strategy recommends that the Council should investigate the cost and benefit of installing electric heat pumps to increase water temperatures. The analysis would cost $20,000 to $30,000 and installation of heat pumps would cost $1.8 to $2.2 million. “Cold nights even in summer, the large surface area of the Daylesford pool and poor insulation in the pool walls means that it will lose a lot of heat and will require a huge amount of energy to maintain a reasonable temperature,” said Mr Bach.  “That really isn’t consistent with the Z-net goal of the Shire.”

Shire pools are currently underutilised and heavily subsidised. In the past two years, Council has spent about $450,000 per year on pool maintenance and operational costs. There have been about 22,000 entries to Shire pools each year which means that each pool entry is subsidised by about $20. By comparison, the Kyneton Sport and Aquatic Centre averages 220,000 entries per year, has an operational deficit of $300,000 and subsidises each entry by about $1.40.

DIAC treasurer, Jim Foster, commented on ‘affordability’. “ Right now the Shire subsidises each swimming pool entry to the tune of $20. Over the next few years, the subsidy per entry is only going to rise if the strategy is implemented,” said Mr Foster. “Can the Shire afford these subsidies? Or are the costs of upgrades and operational costs going to be passed on to users? Either way, the strategy does not deliver affordability. Our business plan, based on the Kyneton model, demonstrates that an indoor facility could run at close to a break-even basis. We need to consider whether pouring more money into our ageing, outdoor pools is affordable.”

The Aquatics Strategy is open for comment. Community members can read and comment on the Draft Aquatic Strategy at the Participate Hepburn site. Comments close on Friday, March 18. Pop-up sessions are planned around the Shire. In Daylesford, Council Officers will be at the pool from 3:30 to 6:30 on Thursday, March 10 (provided, of course, that the temperature is above 21°C).

Editor’s note: Tim Bach and Mark Rak are members of DIAC and on the editorial committee for the Wombat Post. They did not take part in editorial decisions on this story.