A battle has been launched to save a children’s swimming centre under threat of closure because of a planning wrangle.
Sussex Swim School has been hiring a private pool in Lower Beeding to provide swimming lessons for children aged from one to five since 2010 - but its future is now hanging in the balance.
The pool was officially restricted to private use and Horsham District Council launched an investigation following complaints about the ‘unauthorised use’ of the pool at a house known as Beedinglee in Brighton Road.
Permission was then sought to allow use of the pool for private hire, but the application was turned down by planners because of the scale of use and its ‘inappropriate location’ in the countryside.
Now scores of parents have joined club officials in a battle to keep the pool open. An appeal has been launched against the council’s decision and a flood of letters of support have been submitted to the council by parents who want their children to continue having swimming lessons at the pool.
Sussex Swim School owner Hilary Silverman said: “It’s tragic. It will affect so many people.”
The award-winning school currently teaches around 400 youngsters to swim and employs 10 teachers.
Beedinglee is the largest of four venues used by Sussex Swim School - the others are at Great Walstead School in Lindfield; Handcross School and Robins Garth Hortons Corner at Small Dole.
In a report by planners, it was stated that the applicant had put forward ‘personal circumstances’ as justification for the hire of the Beedinglee pool to Sussex Swim School, which has been operating since 2004.
Permission had been sought for 13 swim classes a day from Monday to Friday and 15 classes on Saturdays. Officers calculated that could mean up to 540 cars a week going to and from the pool site.
In letters to Horsham District Council, many parents spoke of their affection for Sussex Swim School and how beneficial it was for their children.
But, turning down the application, planning officers said: “The scales of the activities associated with the use of the swimming pool for private hire are considered excessive and thus result in a substantial increase in activity in this rural area.”
They concluded: “The site lies within an unsustainable rural location outside the limits of any existing settlement and with poor access to services and facilities without the use of a private motor vehicle.
“In addition, the proposed development does not constitute a use considered essential to such a countryside location. The proposal would therefore conflict with the aims of the National Planning Policy Framework.”
However, Mrs Silverman dismissed the objections as ‘nonsensical.’ She added: “It’s not like we have been trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. We didn’t know we needed planning permission when we moved there.”
She said the whole situation was ‘very distressing’. “All our teachers are amazing. They are passionate and hands-on, getting into the water with the children, providing them with confidence and security, and their parents.”
Sussex Swim School was awarded the ASA ‘Best Swim School in the UK’ silver medal in 2014. It also helps Brownies and Beavers/Cubs to achieve their swimming certificates, as well as providing swimming lessons for disabled youngsters.
Every year, the swim school’s pupils aged over three are taken through a ‘Get Safe Campaign’ where they are taught how to be safe in and around water - and how to rescue each other.