Knaresborough Civic Society sticks to rival vision of £13m new leisure centre plans

Knaresborough Civic Society says it's committed to its own ambitious alternative designs after announcing their opposition to £13 million ‘once in a lifetime’ plans for the biggest building project in the town for decades.

Monday, 13th December 2021, 11:00 am
Knaresborough Civic Society's alternative plans of what they would like their version of the new leisure complex would look like. (courtesy of retired architect David Hull)

Knaresborough Civic Society's determination to offer its own rival architectural vision for the major project comes as the deadline for public comments on the current planning application by Harrogate Borough Council draws near.

The voluntary group's move is the latest twist in a year-long saga triggered by Harrogate Borough Council’s aim to replace the town’s existing swimming pool with a multi-million pound new leisure and wellness centre fit for the 21st century.

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Harrogate Borough Council’s plans aim to replace the town’s existing swimming pool with a multi-million pound new leisure and wellness centre fit for the 21st century. (design pictured)

Although the civic society’s interest in the issue is, perhaps, not surprising in itself, the strength of feeling is shown by the detailed nature of the rival architectural designs, floor plans and artist’s impressions it has prepared in the run-up to the final plannign decision next year.

Knaresborough Civic Society’s chair, Bill Rigby, said: “The council’s initiative is a great opportunity for the town. It is a once in a lifetime.

“But we feel an opportunity is being missed in the proposed designs. We have a lot of concerns over the location, size and environmental credentials of the proposed new building and its visual impact on the whole area.”

Coun Stanley Lumley, Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member for culture, tourism and sport, and chair of the board of directors at Brimhams Active, said the project, which would see the new structure built adjacent to the present pool site at Fysche Field, on top of a play area, would be of benefit to the whole community.

He said: “We want to provide Knaresborough with provide modern, fit-for-purpose leisure facilities to ensure people can be healthier, more active and happier.

“The new facilities will include a sauna and steam suite, fitness area and a café, as well as electric car charging points, bicycle storage and a new play area. This will mean we can level-up the facilities in Knaresborough to match other areas of the district.”

During a year-long consultation, Harrogate council has responded to public opinion once already by moving the proposed site from Fysche Field itself to a nearby play area after campaigners raised concerns over the loss of green space.

The most recent public consultation on the project came to an end on October 24.

Knaresborough Civic Society’s alternative plans are based on the idea of retaining the existing swimming pool but adapting and extending it.

Despite nearing the end of the planning consultation process, so vehement is the civic society’s opposition to the project, they have not only submitted rival designs to Harrogate council but a mammoth list of claims.

These include:

There is no demand or proven need to replace the existing swimming pool;

The new leisure centre plans do not include any estimate of the embodied carbon aspect of the project, ie the energy used to extract and transport raw materials as well as emissions from manufacturing processes;

The new leisure centre plans show poor design quality, looking like an “industrial warehouse”. As such, the desing is inappropriate for such a prominent site in the town;

The plan involves losing a large section of park, trees, and green space in the site area;

The way the proposals have been progressed by Harrogate council has not reflected community interests and has not been truly democratic, in particular, a recent public petition against the plans was completely ignored.

In a statement sent to Harrogate Borough Council, Knaresborough Civic Society concludes: “This is possibly going to be the largest building that many of us will see built in Knaresborough and as such we expect to be rightly proud of its appearance and confident in its overall sustainability credentials, as regards construction and running costs.

“We feel that the current design falls very far short of satisfying either expectation.”

In response to that, Harrogate Borough Council would point to the existing swmming pool’s long record of maintenance problems, the new leisure centre’s energy-efficient measures such as air source heat pumps and the fact they have altered the designs to be more in-keeping with the character of the town.

Coun Stan Lumley said: “Once complete, this investment will create a 21st century facility that provides fantastic opportunities for local people to move more, live well and feel great.”

It is certainly not the first time Harrogate council has found itself embroiled in controversy over major civic building projects.

And the story of Knaresborough’s hotly-debated new leisure centre will clearly not be resolved without a great deal more debate.

Public comments for the planning application for a new leisure centre in Knaresborough close today, Monday, December 13.

To make a comment, visit

Application Ref No. 21/04684/RG3MAJ