Armidale council's plan to build the city a new hydrotherapy pool has officially failed.
Mayor Ian Tiley confirmed to the Express on Friday that the Armidale Regional Council had handed back a $1.093 million state government grant for the project, bringing an end to a four-year saga.
The Commonwealth government clawed back a $2.316 million grant dedicated to the same project earlier this year.
Cr Tiley said it was "disappointing" the project had fallen over, and said the council needed to take some responsibility for the failure.
"I understand that it's been handed back," he said.
"We, being the council, I admit were tardy, we were slow in getting our act together in the early days when we first received the grants. The funding authorities have taken the grants back off us and I have to say it's going to take a big effort on the part of the council to win back the trust and confidence of those funding authorities. That's an issue that really burns with me."
He said administrator Viv May had "canned" the proposal last year on the basis it would be too costly to run, but the reappointed council had done its best to find a way for the project to go ahead after their return in early 2021; to no avail.
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It will mean a big blow for Armidale mum Anita Johnson.
Since the closure of the old hydrotherapy pool in 2019, she has been forced to take desperate measures to get her son, Cooper, the help he needs.
Cooper, 11, has cerebral palsy, which causes pain that the old hydrotherapy pool was able to treat.
The family spent $4000 on their own outdoor four-person spa, but it doesn't work as well, and they can't use it for three months of the year due to Armidale's biting winters.
"For me personally, it affects our whole life, really, because Cooper's back with pain, the sleepless nights. He hasn't got the access to it to do what he needs to do therapy-wise," she said.
Ms Johnson said she won't be the only local disappointed by the decision - the old pool was quite popular and got plenty of use, she said.
Without one many residents are either forced to make a 200 kilometre round trip to Tamworth, or to simply go without.
For them, the news the hydrotherapy plan had failed would be "very heartbreaking", she said.
"I think [people will] be very disappointed, very disappointed. It affects so many people and a lot more people than anyone realises."
Mayor Tiley said that all hope was not yet lost of getting a hydrotherapy pool, but the council will likely have to look to the private sector.
Council is in talks with a private provider who could build and operate the service, he said.
"They seem fairly interested in doing something in our Monkton swimming centre," he said.
"We need someone to come in to build and operate.
"I'm very confident [of getting a pool operator], because this particular entity, the General Manager has dealt with before in another location, and they're reputable. And they're doing their sums I'm hoping that within a few short weeks we may have an acceptable proposal."
Armidale councillor Margaret O'Connor said the expectation that local council would pay to replace the service that had been provided by Hunter New England Health was "cost shifting" from state to local government, and that the council felt like its hands were financially tied by its financial improvement orders.
"The determination to get a hydrotherapy pool is only firmer than ever," she said.
"There's been no clarity about why Hunter New England Health is refusing to take any responsibility for this."
Deputy Mayor Deb O'Brien said it was a vital service that had gone missing, and the city is a regional hub for towns like Glen Innes, Inverell and as far as Tenterfield.
"For a town the size of Armidale to not have a service of this kind it's just remiss, isn't it?"
Hunter New England Health was contacted for comment on this story.
Armidale Regional Council was put into administration in 2020. Administrator Viv May declared in November 2020 that "no further action" would be taken on the project for financial reasons.
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