Stray Ferret banned from today’s Ripon pool media opening
Feb 28, 2022
Jack Laugher Leisure and Wellness Centre

The Stray Ferret was refused entry to Ripon’s new leisure centre today by staff from Harrogate Borough Council.

Our Ripon reporter Tim Flanagan, who lives in the city, was turned away by a council press officer when he arrived shortly before 2pm.

Tim was told today’s event at the Jack Laugher Leisure and Wellness Centre was for councillors only and separate arrangements would be made for the press at a later date.

It later transpired that several other media outlets were allowed to look around the new complex today to provide coverage ahead of Wednesday’s opening date.

Ripon City Council leader Andrew Williams, who witnessed the incident, said it appeared Harrogate Borough Council was censoring media organisations that asked “legitimate questions” about the way public money is spent and this was “totally unacceptable”.

The Stray Ferret has led on coverage of delays to the construction of the pool and mounting costs, as well as concerns about sinkholes. The pool was due to be ready nine months ago and the leisure centre project is £4m over budget.

Part of the site remains closed for further work after a void — a gap below the surface — was discovered last year.

‘Totally unacceptable’

Cllr Williams, said:

“I can confirm that Harrogate Borough Council’s PR officer told the Stray Ferret journalist that he was not able to look around the new swimming pool and that today’s event was for councillors only and a separate event for the press is yet to be organised and the Stray Ferret will be invited to this.

“I now understand that other media was invited around today and if it’s a case that Harrogate Borough Council has adopted a censorship policy that bars media who ask legitimate questions on the way that public money is spent, this is totally unacceptable in a democracy and is more like the way that Vladimir Putin handles affairs in Russia.”

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The Stray Ferret has reported concerns by Ripon-based chartered engineer Stanley Mackintosh about the wisdom of the council building a swimming pool on land with a history of ground instability issues.

Dr Alan Thompson, a geologist and director of director of Cuesta Consulting in Somerset, has also raised safety concerns — as covered by the Stray Ferret.

We have also reported concerns about the proposed price hike for Ripon City Swimming Club to use the pool to teach swimming.

‘No lifeguards on duty’

A council spokesman said:

“Tim wasn’t banned from entering the Jack Laugher Leisure and Wellness Centre today.

“Today’s invite was for Ripon city councillors to have a first-look at the facility before it opens on Wednesday. As we explained to the councillors, there are still some finishing touches to complete and them to be mindful while walking around the new pool.

“There were also no lifeguards on duty so we needed to be cautious about the number of people poolside.”

The Stray Ferret replied by asking if it was a councillors-only event why other media outlets were allowed to attend.

The spokesman said:

“Tim wasn’t refused entry and others allowed in; BBC Look North and ITV Calendar had a first-look this morning and we were limited on time.”

The statement did not mention that local media were also invited — but not the Stray Ferret.

We were subsequently invited to an invitation to view the centre tomorrow.