Why more construction challenges lie ahead for Ripon leisure centre
Mar 16, 2022
Jack Laugher Leisure and Wellness Centre
Jack Laugher Leisure and Wellness Centre in Ripon.

There were celebrations at Ripon’s Jack Laugher Leisure and Wellness Centre this month when a multi-million pound swimming pool opened after months of costly delays.

It was hailed as a “major development” by Harrogate Borough Council, which invited the city’s three-time Olympic medalist to officially open the new facility that proudly displays his name above the main entrance.

The opening on March 2 was also welcomed by residents who were left without a pool for months after the closure of Ripon Spa Baths in November.

Jack Laugher holds his Olympic gold medal at the opening.

But attention is now turning to the outcome of an investigation into ground conditions beneath the older half of the leisure centre where an underground void was discovered in 2020.

The investigation by engineering firm Stantec could end next week and will be followed by a report setting out what reinforcement works will be required ahead of the completion of the venue’s redevelopment project, which is nine months overdue and £4million over budget, and included the new pool.

A spokesperson for the council said: 

“These investigations began in February and should be finished in the coming week.

“Once they have been completed, we will have a comprehensive understanding of what is required to ensure people in Ripon can keep fit and active for years to come.

“Should remedial work be required, the final stages of the investment project – predominantly to the ground floor of the existing leisure centre – will be completed once this work has been carried out.”

The underground void was discovered in 2020, but only became public knowledge last May when the £110,000 investigation was agreed by councillors.

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This was followed by an initial report from Stantec last November which was described as “sobering reading” by council leader Richard Cooper.

‘Significant deterioration’

The report suggested there had been a “significant deterioration” of the ground beneath the older half of the leisure centre, which was built in 1995 and like much of Ripon sits on gypsum deposits.

It also said piles were not driven deep enough into the ground during the initial construction and that it remained unclear why this happened as “many critical records” were missing.

The report added strengthening works could include steelworks, thickened floors and grouting where mortar is pumped into the ground – the same method “successfully” used to stabilise the new pool.

However, it said strengthening alone is “unlikely to mitigate risks to acceptable levels” and that other measures would be required, including long-term monitoring.

The new Ripon swimming pool.

The new Ripon swimming pool.

The council decided to build the pool next to the leisure centre in 2019 despite some councillors raising “deep concerns” about ground stability at the site where a sinkhole opened up the previous year.

‘Safe to use’

The council has continually insisted that professional advice has made it clear that the site is “safe to use”.

But what remains to be seen are the crucial conclusions of the ongoing investigation, which is likely to stretch the project further into this year.

Ripon Independents councillor Pauline McHardy said while she and many residents were “delighted” with the new pool, it was now key that any extra costs and delays were kept to a minimum.

She said: 

“We must remember that a sinkhole appeared on the land prior to the work starting, so Harrogate Borough Council knew the risk they were taking of building on that land rather than elsewhere in Ripon.

“I hope the remainder of the work can be completed quickly and with minimal further cost to deliver the combined leisure and swimming facility that Ripon was promised.”