The leader of Dundee City Council insists he is as “angry as anyone” over the closure of the Olympia swimming pools – as calls for a public inquiry into the issue have been dismissed.
The pools at the city’s main leisure centre are set to be shut until at least 2023 for repair work that could total more than £4.5 million.
Meanwhile taxpayers are also facing a bill of at least £4.4m after roofs were installed to the wrong standards by the council over several years.
And the local authority is forking out £1.2m to upgrade heating at its Dundee House HQ, even though it no longer owns the building.
The row erupted just a month before the May 5 local elections.
Warnings over condition of Olympia ‘ignored’
Michael Marra – North East Scotland MSP for Scottish Labour and a councillor in the city – raised the issues in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.
He claims locals are facing a bill of at least £11m, which is higher than the council’s estimates of about £10m so far – though local authority chiefs have admitted the costs could rise further.
Speaking at Holyrood, Mr Marra said: “The minister may be aware of not one, not two but three major building and maintenance failures at Dundee City Council which have resulted in local taxpayers footing a minimum bill of £11m and rising.
“The SNP administration ignored repeated warnings that the Olympia leisure centre required urgent maintenance over a period of years.
“That eight-year-old building now looks set to be closed for over 18 months.
“Audit procedures have clearly failed. Will the minister back an urgent public inquiry into how the people of Dundee have been so badly failed by the council administration?”
What is the Scottish Government’s response?
Responding to Mr Marra’s question, Ben Macpherson – the minister for local government, housing and planning – said the matter was one for the council to address.
He said: “Councils are independent bodies and separate from the Scottish Government.
“The matters raised are for Dundee City Council to review and address.
“As such they carry out their own internal scrutiny of their own activities through their scrutiny committee.
“It is my understanding that the scrutiny committee has met within the last few weeks and looked at the issued raised by Mr Marra.
“This committee is chaired and co-chaired by councillors, including opposition councillors.
“The scrutiny board has the ability to interrogate and investigate in a broad manner and with broad power.”
Council leader: ‘I am as angry as anyone’
John Alexander, leader of the council’s SNP administration, says he “wants answers too”.
He told The Courier: “These matters are already subject to investigations and we await the outcome of those, including an investigation into roofs by PwC.
“This matter is not a political one but rather operational. Politicians are not engineers, clerks of works etc. and we all, rightly, expect that such operational matters would be dealt with by those holding that expertise.
“I could equally make the point that Labour members have sat on the board of Leisure and Culture Dundee during the entire time.
“It was a Labour convener who supported and led the planned development and site selection for the Olympia.
“Labour also hold the chair of the council’s scrutiny committee, which can scrutinise any aspect of council business.
“I haven’t made that point because it distracts from the need for concrete answers on what went wrong, where and who.
“I am as angry at the current situation as anyone.”
What are the issues?
The Olympia’s swimming pools shut in October due to a lighting issue.
However, it soon emerged that the closure would be a lengthy one as repairs of about £4.5m were needed on a range of issues, including corrosion.
An initial estimate suggested late 2022 as a target for reopening, but that soon became spring 2023, with concerns raised last week that it could be even longer than that.
It has also emerged that council chiefs branded the condition of parts of the Olympia “shocking” within weeks of it opening, with the building plagued by corrosion issues since.
The Courier broke details of the roofing blunder in November as it emerged work would have to be redone on 450 roofs as they did not meet safety standards.
The cost of putting the blunder right is estimated at £4.4m and will take 16 weeks from when work gets under way.
An internal audit into how the error happened is taking place.
Council leader Mr Alexander said at the time he was “furious” at the blunder while Kevin Keenan – the leader of the opposition Labour group – branded it a “gross error”.
The council is planning work to upgrade the heating at its Dundee House HQ.
The work – estimated to cost £1.2m – is to address failing pipework and radiators.
That is despite the council not owning the building any more, after selling it to a Canadian firm, which rents it back to the local authority.
The move has come under fire from locals and opposition politicians, but the council says the work is needed to “ensure performance and avoid premature corrosion problems”.