Campaigners still in deep water over pool
Weston-super-Mare's famous Tropicana centre could once again be packed with swimmers after a Government minister dramatically saved it from being demolished.
Local Government and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles called a halt to North Somerset Council's plans to demolish the run-down beachfront Tropicana attraction, which has been derelict for 12 years.
Mr Pickles said the building was such a landmark that restoring it was a better option, although he did say that this decision could be reviewed if restoration proved not to be viable. That gives a last-chance opportunity for council chiefs and a consortium led by one of their councillors, Derek Mead, to come together to save the building.
Mr Mead, a prominent farmer, landowner and campaigner in north Somerset, is fronting a group called Trop (WSM), which has drawn up ambitious plans to turn the site into a three-pool leisure centre.
Tourism Minister and Weston MP John Penrose said the restoration plans had the backing of everyone in the town, and he was bullish about the prospects for saving the Trop.
"The entire town will be delighted by this news," he said. "I told the minister what local people wanted, and I'm delighted to say he's listened. Now Derek Mead has got the chance he wanted to fix the Trop, and it's up to him to grab it with both hands and make it work.
"Kerry and Michelle Michael rebuilt the Grand Pier in a year; let's see if Derek can beat their record."
Mr Mead said his plan still needed millions of pounds of investment, and the backing of the council, which initially rejected his idea.
He said Mr Pickles' decision was "good news", but there was still a long way to go.
"We have wasted two years messing around over this," he said. "We have wasted a lot of money getting where we are and missed £20 million worth of coastal funding for which The Tropicana – in a deprived area – ticked all the boxes. So it is good news but it is very frustrating."
Mr Pickles said that, on balance, the Trop deserved a chance to be restored.
"The Secretary of State considers that while the building is in poor condition, it currently contributes to the character of the conservation area and could make a greater contribution including in relation to the appearance of that area if restored but that its removal would be of less than substantial harm," his letter said.
But he did raise the possibility that it could be demolished if restoration plans came to nothing and, in the end, "demolition is the only real, practical option available".
What happens next depends on North Somerset Council, which said it welcomed the "clarification" by the minister, ordering it to stop plans to demolish the Trop.
"We welcome the clarification from the Secretary of State and note that he recognises that circumstances might result in consideration of a further application for demolition," a council statement said.
"Other options have already been under consideration during this hiatus and we will continue to progress these until we make a decision."