Only the Liberal Democrats have clear, exciting plans to bring a new leisure centre and swimming pool to Kingston town centre.
At this week's Full Council meeting, a number of questions were raised about our plans to re-open a leisure centre and swimming pool complex in Kingston town centre.
Opponents of the new leisure centre want to hold up the demolition of a building that is at the end of its natural lifespan. It certainly fell short in meeting all the needs of local residents and lacked the amenities of a modern community facility.
Closed for safety reasons in 2019, further inspection make it clear that the works required to make the centre safe to use were far more extensive than initially thought, and would not significantly improve the usage, accessibility, sustainability or quality of the building.
Given the Kingfisher's age (almost forty years old), the predicted £5m cost was likely to have risen significantly. It would have also been extremely short-sighted to spend millions of pounds on repairing an old building that was likely to require further repair or closure in a few years.
Instead, Kingston Lib Dems chose to create a new complex that is affordable and accessible to all, that is green and more sustainable, that is fit for residents to enjoy for decades to come.
Our clear plan to invest in Kingston's future
Since the Kingfisher Leisure Centre had to close due to being structurally unsafe, Lib Dems on the Council have been working on plans to deliver a new leisure centre for Kingston as quickly as possible. At the Corporate & Resources Committee on 13 May 2021, a team of professionals were appointed to deliver plans for a modern, sustainable leisure centre that will be built on the site of the Kingfisher.
The architects designing the new centre, FaulknerBrowns, are a world-leading practice and have delivered over 160 leisure centre projects, and other planning professionals are preparing to submit formal planning applications next year.
However, the Conservatives may have missed this detail. They childishly walked out of the meeting early, instead of helping to shape the future of a new leisure centre in the town centre.
At the Planning Committee on 1 September 2021, Lib Dem-run Kingston Council also re-confirmed its commitment to a new leisure centre on the site of the Kingfisher! The site is now secured for future generations and overturns the Conservatives' 2017 plan to close the Kingfisher and 're-provide' elsewhere in the Borough.
A new leisure centre is affordable
We are firmly committed to keeping prices as low as possible, whilst still ensuring the new facility offers value for money for taxpayers. At the same Corporate & Resources Committee, it was agreed to add a budget of £40m to the Council's capital programme as part of the budget monitoring report considered on 30 September 2021.
Kingston Council can fund capital expenditure from a range of sources including long-term borrowing, and the Council has the headroom to do this. Kingston's replacement leisure centre and swimming pool will be funded in the most appropriate way, whether that's prudential borrowing, capital receipts, investing to save, grant funding or through the community infrastructure levy.
Opening a new leisure centre as quickly as possible
Rather than patching-up the existing under-used, end-of-life and inaccessible-to-all Kingfisher Leisure Centre, Lib Dems have taken a bold step to give residents a leisure centre and swimming pool fit for the 21st century. Lib Dem-run Kingston Council is focused on making this happen and the new complex is planned to open in 2024.
We've started the process of demolishing the Kingfisher Centre so that as soon as planning is approved, we can start building works on the site. Demolishing early also provides a period of time to undertake below ground site surveys and investigations, including archaeological assessments. This will help to ensure that residents can be back in the pool and enjoying all the additional facilities a new centre will bring in 2024.
Conservatives' calls to close the Kingfisher
Back in 2018, before the Lib Dems took over running the Council and saved it from bankruptcy, the Tories wanted to close the Kingfisher Leisure Centre and move the pool to Kingsmeadow, reducing the number of leisure centres in the Borough to four, whilst proposing to spend over £50m.
Our record on the Kingfisher
Kingston Lib Dems were proud to overturn the Tories’ 2017 plans to close the Kingfisher and move services elsewhere, and we're excited to be delivering a brand new leisure centre – on the same site – that residents in Kingston can use and enjoy for generations to come.
We're also proud to make it accessible for disabled people to use. We're proud to be bringing both a 25-metre competition standard pool and a training pool to the new centre. We're proud of the family-friendly facilities like a 'splash-deck' pool. We're proud of the additional facilities like a multi-court sports hall, squash courts, an airy modern gym, fitness and dance studios, a clip-and-climb wall, and 5-a-side football pitch on the roof.
The choice for the Kingfisher is clear
Either the Lib Dems' clear plan that will deliver a brand new, state-of-the-art leisure centre in 2024, or opposition confusion and delay so that Kingston has nowhere to swim or exercise.