Council to look into longer outdoor swimming season for Hitchin and Letchworth

Hitchin Lido

Hitchin Lido - Credit: Google Maps

Plans to extend the opening season for outdoor pools in Hitchin and Letchworth are being considered, after more than 1,200 residents backed a petition to see pools open weeks earlier.

The swimmers claim the lidos currently miss the best of the weather, while saying an extension to the period would benefit the wellbeing of residents.

Susan Foster, who started the petition, presented it to North Herts district councillors at a meeting of full council on Thursday, January 20.

Both pools are currently open between the end of May and early September, but those signing the petition have asked for an extension from early April to the end of September.

Mrs Foster told councillors: “Every year we rejoice when the lidos open, and feel so sad when they close and every year we say the same thing – if only they were open for longer.

“We realised after lockdowns, and almost seven months off swimming, how previous outdoor swimming is to us all, so a few friends got together and decided to act.”

Mrs Foster highlighted an increased interest in outdoor swimming and the changing climate, which has seen May record the warmest temperatures in recent years.

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Those who signed the petition also highlighted the benefits of outdoor swimming to their mental and physical health and urged the council to consider ways to extend the opening season.

Mrs Foster concluded: “Me and many other swimmers really hope you listen to our plea, it will help the physical and mental wellbeing of your constituents enormously.”

Cllr Simon Harwood (Conservative, Hitchin Priory) said he was “absolutely supportive” of the plans as the ward councillor, and urged the council to act for the benefit of clubs who are reliant on the pool but struggle to get lane time.

Councillor Judi Billing (Labour, Hitchin Bearton), who has previously chaired the council’s Hitchin committee, said she welcomed cross-party support for the proposals.

Cllr Billing said: “Every single year we looked for ways that we could keep the open air swimming pool in Hitchin open for longer hours in summer months. We had one or two successes, we had one or two failures, because we couldn’t seem to galvanise the swimming community to work with us to ensure it was used enough and we certainly couldn’t galvanise the support of all the councillors on Hitchin committee.

“But it’s so exciting now to hear how enthusiastic everybody is about taking this forward in a much more constructive way, and I really look forward to the next debates we have on it and the ways we can see what is possible for the future.”

The council acknowledged it was not something they could directly control, but they would engage with the contract holder for leisure facilities in the district, to assess the feasibility of extending the season.

Councillor Steve Jarvis (Liberal Democrat, Weston and Sandon), executive member for environment and leisure, said the council would see how other local authorities have responded to the popularity of outdoor swimming.

He said: “We’re all aware of the benefits of the open air pools and want to see them open for as long as we can.

“I think one of the things that’s useful to understand is what is going on elsewhere … I can’t promise that we’re going to achieve the same, but I think to understand what’s happening elsewhere, and the ways in which they are attracting large numbers of people would be very useful.”

The issue will now be discussed in a future meeting of the council’s Cabinet, before any decisions or changes can be made.