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Auckland super city plans could end free swimming

Auckland super city plans could end free swimming
November 12, 2009

Olympic athlete and sports administrator Sir John Walker has voiced fears that thousands of children could lose free access to Manukau swimming pools under plans for the new Auckland âsupercityâ.

The Auckland Transition Agency (ATA) has unveiled its master plan for creating the new Auckland 'super city', bringing together Auckland's eight local authorities and council controlled organisations.

Since 1974, Manukau City Council has provided free public access to all pools, putting up to $7 million of ratepayers' money towards running the facilities each year.

But Sir John Walker believes the scheme will be abandoned (along with the chance to learn how to swim for free) once the one-Auckland city administration is implemented.

As Walker says, "Manukau is the only city in the country that has free swimming pools (and) I don't know what's going to happen to the supercity, but free swimming pools for the whole of Auckland? probably not."

Sir John Walker, who last year started the John Walker Find Your Field of Dreams project, says one of Manukau's main priorities is to make facilities and activities accessible to youth. Free swimming lessons for all Year 3 and 4 pupils, after-school programmes and recreational activity-sport days at local parks, are some of the ways the city is getting youth involved.

As he adds "Manukau is different because the population is very young (and) it's always been our priority and responsibility to have free swimming pools, libraries, recreation centres and parks, because it's giving them something to do - take it away and they're on the streets, bored and (with) nothing to do (which will) leading to trouble."

Walker is disappointed that the supercity scheme would mean Manukau City would lose some of its greatest assets, and would stop other major projects from happening.

Manukau City Mayor Len Brown says he will fight for the free swimming pools policy to stay, having been something the city was very proud of for the past 35 years, stating "it'll be a hell of a political fight," adding "it was always the great risk in this debate and it was one of the reasons why Manukau fought so hard against the supercity."

Mayor Brown said expanding the policy to all parts of Auckland would be the better solution, rather than getting rid of a policy which specifically helped thousands of families in Manukau and in the wider Auckland region.

Mayor Brown added "this is part of Manukau's philosophy, putting families and kids first.

"Free swimming pools was basically to ensure that all our kids could access pools at any time and learn how to swim."

Recently announced ATA plans for the management of the supercity show that staff in Auckland's existing councils whose jobs are involved with strategy, policy and planning "are likely to be involved in significant change as these functions will generally be centralised."

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