A leading Illawarra architect says a recommendation to run down or demolish some of the city’s ocean pools ignores the heritage value of Wollongong’s Gentlemen’s Baths.
The proposal, put forward by Wollongong City Council’s controversial citizens panel in an effort to cut costs, said two or three of the region’s nine tidal pools that are close to other aquatic facilities should be ‘‘reduced’’ and ‘‘run to fail’’.
As the Gentlemen’s Baths are next to the Continental Pool, they could be on the hit list if the panel’s suggestion goes ahead.
But Andrew Conacher, from Borst & Conacher Architects, said the popular swimming hole was rich with historical significance and listed on the state heritage register, making any suggestion to neglect or demolish it misguided.
‘‘A quick viewing of the council’s heritage listings shows that this [pool] is part of a state-registered conservation area, so that demolition of this community asset would require approval from the Heritage Office of the state Department of Planning,’’ he said.
‘‘And with state-listed items, the Heritage Act says you must maintain them or you can face a fine, so the council could not ‘run to fail’ this site.
‘‘My advice to the citizens panel is by all means make suggestions, but temper these with a little knowledge and respect.’’
According to the council’s 2009 development control plan, the baths are part of a heritage conservation area that runs between North Beach and Flagstaff Hill.
The site has been a known swimming site since the mid-1850s, according to the plan, and was made into the Gentlemen’s Baths in the 1890s, when the existing Clarkes rock pool was blasted out by a contractor.
The council also says the site is associated with the development of swimming skills for volunteer lifesavers and that the city’s first swimming carnival was held at the baths in May 1896.
As well as playing an important part in the region’s swimming history, the pool was also a social asset for many older citizens, families and students, Mr Conacher said.
‘‘The panel seems to be saying, well you’ve got two pools side by side, so you should be happy with one,’’ he said.
‘‘But people swim in the old men’s pool in preference to the Continental pools...and there’s something unique about it, and all of Wollongong’s rock pools.
‘‘There are university students from all over the world who swim there and they just love it.
‘‘It’s a free service, it keeps senior citizens and middle-aged people healthy, motivated and activated where they’d otherwise be relying on all sorts of social services and medical care.’’
The plan to remove ocean pools has also alarmed residents who have participated in the council’s online forum about the citizens panel recommendations.
One forum participant, going by the name Stewart Hardy, said the closure of the rock pools was ‘‘the absolute worst thing Wollongong could do’’.
‘‘As a family who have lived and worked across Australia and various parts of the world, we decided to settle on the South Coast specifically to enjoy these rock pools,’’ he said.
‘‘They do not exist anywhere else [and] you will be destroying the single best thing about the area.’’
Likewise, a poster by the name of ‘‘Ourbestfuture’’ said Wollongong was famous for its rock pools, which attracted tourists during summer.
‘‘These places are at the heart of our community life – in summer people swim safely in them throughout the evenings,’’ Ourbestfuture’s forum post said.