February 2, 2024

For decades, ocean pools along Sydney’s coast and shoreline provided a safe and welcoming place to swim. They are not pools in the strictest sense of the word, but rather sheltered tidal zones that allow swimmers to enjoy the sea and marine life without encountering the hazards of a surf beach: the stinging bluebottles, slippery rocks and sharp shells.

These relatively wild swimming environments were not only popular with adults, but also children and young people who grew up learning how to swim in the pools. Images of these ocean pools in recent exhibitions have pointed out the convivial but respectful relationships that swimmers can develop with the sea and its creatures. They were, and remain, a very Sydney thing to do.

In recent times, though, some of these ocean and harbourside pools have been under threat. Others have been closed completely, including Parramatta’s local pool in 2017 and West Sydney’s in 2019 because of funding shortfalls. The Berejiklian government promised to build like-for-like replacements at both, but this has proved to be a slow process.

While North Sydney Olympic pool is set to reopen in 2021, there are fears the repairs will take longer than initially anticipated. The city council’s chief executive this month issued an internal note that outlined extensive maintenance works, ranging from full replacement of tiles to concrete and steel repair work. The timing of the works has some community members asking why it is taking so long and fearing a repeat of the delays that have plagued other Sydney pool projects.

The city council says the extensive maintenance works are necessary, but it is clear that community groups and local businesses will need to keep up their fundraising efforts in order for the project to reach its completion date. In the meantime, many residents have been left with a gaping hole in their local landscape and no nearby place to swim.

Amid the ongoing debate over the merits of public-private partnerships, there are questions as to whether some pools are being prioritised more than others – and how that will impact on community health in the long run. It has been argued that private companies are able to fund and manage these projects more quickly than governments and their agencies, with the added benefit of being able to draw on their own expertise to minimise risk and maximise return.

Despite the advantages of a private-sector approach, there are still some benefits to public-private partnerships. Firstly, it can be more cost-effective than traditional procurement methods. It can also be more flexible and nimble, with the ability to adapt to changes in market conditions. And it can be an effective way to deliver innovative solutions to complex problems. But the key to success is to ensure that both parties have a shared vision for a project, and that they have an open line of communication from start to finish. This will help ensure that all parties are on the same page, and avoid any misunderstandings or conflicts of interest.