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How The Courier campaigned for Dundee Olympia probe

We have revealed myriad problems and concerns which have plagued the facility since its first closure in 2021.

The Olympia leisure centre in Dundee. Image: Kim Cessford/DC Thomson
The Olympia leisure centre in Dundee. Image: Kim Cessford/DC Thomson

An independent probe into what has gone wrong at Dundee’s beleaguered Olympia centre has been greenlit by city councillors.

Council leader John Alexander had asked members of the local authority’s city governance committee to back his proposals when they met on Monday.

The approval of an investigation into Dundee’s flagship leisure facility comes after years of pressure from opposition groups and local residents left furious at the years-long closure of the pools and multi-million pound repair bills.

And The Courier has refused to be stonewalled by the authorities over the controversy, revealing myriad problems and concerns which have plagued the Olympia.

Dundee City Council leader John Alexander. Image:

Earlier this year we revealed how secrecy around the £32m white elephant snowballed as the crisis escalated.

Our columnist Steve Finan led the chorus of calls for an independent probe.

In February, he said: “I’ve written about the Olympia several times and the reaction online or by email can be angry, insulting, threatening – but so what.

“However, one response gets my dander up.

“When failures are mentioned, or complaints made, or some council plan is questioned, there are accusations this is ‘bad-mouthing Dundee’.

“Nonsense. I’ve never talked down Dundee in my life. Demanding better for the city is the most pro-Dundee thing you could do.”

In a leader column just days earlier, The Courier said: “It is understandable then why furious city swimmers and local politicians are demanding an independent inquiry to get to the bottom of the farce.”

Pool closure for maintenance

The confirmation of the probe comes almost three years after the operator of the Olympia, Leisure and Culture Dundee (L&CD), announced all pools at the facility would close because of what it called a “technical issue”.

At the time, no information was given as to the nature of the problems or how long it would be shut for.

In November 2021, however, The Courier revealed the facility would be shut until at least the end of 2022 after it was determined repairs worth £4.5m were required.

The Olympia repairs were initially costed at £4.5m.

Emails reveal years-long concerns

In January 2022, we revealed the issues which led to the long-term closure of Dundee’s Olympia centre were raised years earlier but never acted on.

Email exchanges between senior staff at Dundee City Council and Leisure and Culture Dundee, obtained by this publication, shone a light on the sheer volume of problems at the facility.

Emails revealed concerns were raised about the condition of the Olympia just months after it opened.

This included rust falling from the flume platform on to the poolside below, corroded bolts and water leaking on to electrical switchgear.

The emails also showed the L&CD’s health and safety committee chairman Will Dawson had tried to get them fixed at the time but with no success.

Spiralling costs

That summer The Courier broke the news that the Olympia was likely to remain shut until the end if the following year – with the repair bill rising to £6m.

Also revealed was the extent of the work required at the leisure facility, with council chiefs identifying 39 areas which needed repairs or upgrades.

Competition pool too short and fire dampers not tested

In May 2022, it was claimed the integrity of competitions held at the facility may been have been compromised as the pool was “too short”.

We reported how a “list of defects” published in May 2014 found it was short in both 25m and 50m modes.

This led to David Haig, head coach at Dundee City Aquatics, calling for competitions held at the venue to be reviewed by Scottish Swimming, amid fears they could now be invalid.

And last November, The Courier told how bosses at the Olympia neglected industry guidance on fire damper testing for eight years.

The Courier revealed fire dampers at the beleaguered facility had never been tested.

A Freedom of Information request confirmed no tests were carried out on the fire dampers at the building between its opening in June 2013 and closure in October 2021.

This is despite rules stating they should be tested by a “competent person” at least once year.

More than 100 issues were subsequently found with the fire dampers at the Olympia when testing was carried out as part of refurbishment works.

Long awaited reopening – and further closure

The Olympia centre finally reopened to the public in December 2023 – more than two years after it was first closed for urgent maintenance.

But in February, The Courier revealed yet more repairs were needed at the swimming pools after a metal rod fell and nearly hit swimmers.

The Olympia only reopened in December – but it proved to be short lived. Image: Alan Richardson

It was later confirmed that there was an issue with the water supply pipework and rods serving the red flume.

This has led to both the leisure and toddler pools being closed to the public, with no reopening date yet confirmed.

That same month, an investigation by The Courier shone a light on the ill-fated project and the highly-paid bosses behind it.

Our February 26 report found:

  • Insulating the Olympia’s roof during construction could have stopped objects falling from the ceiling
  • A major leak that put staff safety at risk was due to the showers not being built right
  • A £65,000 repair bill was down to builders using the wrong glue
  • Leaders suggested fending off condensation problems with baby oil

On March 1, Dundee City Council leader Mr Alexander caved to pressure over an independent inquiry and said he no longer has confidence in the reassurances given by professionals and outside experts.

The council now needs to work out the most appropriate process of setting up the probe.

What went wrong at Olympia?

The terms of reference will then set out exactly what is to be investigated and what the council hopes to achieve.

It is likely to focus on what went wrong, why it was allowed to happen and what lessons should be learned for the future.

The investigation will also have to seek the support of other organisations and third parties involved in the scandal, including construction firms, outside contractors and former council employees.