News that Armidale Regional Council (ARC) had handed back a $1.093 million state government grant for a new hydrotherapy pool has disappointed members of a local think tank.
The New England Visions Institute was formed last year and member Maria Hitchcock felt the group had done all they could to suggest to council how it could replace the former Armidale Hydrotherapy Pool.
"We've done as much as we can because we are not an activist group, and it's up to the council," Ms Hitchcock said.
"The cost-shifting from Hunter New England Health is scandalous, and I don't understand what is going on there.
"I think there needs to be some serious lobbying with our local member. You can't deprive us of an important medical service simply because you don't want to keep funding it."
In March this year, the New England Visions Institute group presented a number of ideas to council for a local wellness centre to replace the hydrotherapy pool in Armidale, including completing a feasibility study with the director of Otium Planning, Michael King.
"When council first applied for the grants, there was not a proper business case or feasibility study, and the biggest problem is finding a heating source," Ms Hitchcock told the Express this week.
Ms Hitchcock said as a follow-up to the presentation in March, the group asked Michael King if he could liaise with the council to get them to fund a feasibility study.
In 2020 a peer review undertaken by the Otium Planning Group found the Armidale Regional Hydrotherapy Pool project was undervalued in terms of cost because a full business case was lacking, and most regional hydrotherapy pools run at a loss, with the biggest costs being staffing and heating.
Acting ARC general manager John Rayner said at the time, the hydrotherapy pool project exposed the council to considerable financial risk if allowed to continue.
At its ordinary council meeting in January, ARC unanimously agreed to continue to explore options for a hydrotherapy centre.
New England Visions Institute members Allun Davies and Ms Hitchcock held an online meeting in February with Michael King to discuss various ideas and ways to move forward with the project.
"He suggested we look at establishing a wellness centre with a warm water pool, not a hydrotherapy pool. Apparently, hydrotherapy pools have all sorts of regulations attached to them that you don't have with a warm water pool."
At the same meeting, Ms Hitchcock and Mr Davies presented a wide range of aquatic complex models to the councillors - from those with pools, spas, saunas, water slides and child care facilities to a public/private partnership where a hydrotherapy pool is attached to an aged care complex. Mr Davies said he thought the complex to best suit Armidale would probably cost about $30 million.
A spokesperson for Armidale Regional Council confirmed with the Express on Thursday council had not progressed further with the ideas presented by Ms Hitchcock and Mr Davies.
Hunter New England Health was approached for comment but declined.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content: