Kingston's future - and past - at risk. Why stopping demolition of a leisure centre matters so much
The Officers of Kingston Council are asking The Planning Committee of the Council to approve plans to demolish The Kingfisher Leisure Centre this Wednesday 1 September 2021
The report recommending approval of the demolition and the planning application documents supporting the recommendation have got more holes than a Swiss Cheese.
Our elected representatives must not accept this recommendation.
You can read all 23 reasons I have given to Kingston Council that explain why councillors MUST NOT approve the planning application in my RESPONSE to the planning application and officers' report
Here are SIX of the most important reasons why the planning application to demolish The Kingfisher Leisure Centre must NOT be approved. Full details are in my response to the Council. I have written to Historic England and Sport England for clarification of the issues concerning them that I have raised below.
1. There is no justification for Council officers’ claim that the demolition of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre will lead to “no net loss of community facilities” and that the requirements of the Core Strategy and London Plan have been met by a decision of the Response and Recovery Committee
The council claims in point 14.4 of their report to Planning Committee that “.. given that Officers have concluded elsewhere in this report that the application would not result in the net loss of community facilities, it is considered that the pending ACV nomination carries little weight in the circumstances.”
However, the “conclusion” that the demolition of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre will not result in net loss of community facilities is not justified by evidence that all the facilities and activities recently provided at the Kingfisher can be provided elsewhere or in a different way.
Indeed, the opposite conclusion must indeed be true - the demolition of a leisure centre without immediate reprovision of identical facilities must by nature result in the net loss of community facilities. There is also no evidence that the Council has the financial resources to fund any reprovision of the Kingfisher’s facilities and activities.
The demolition of a leisure centre without guaranteed simultaneous reprovision of at least identical facilities in quantity ad quality must by nature result in the net loss of community facilities.
Crucially, there is also no evidence at this point in time that the Council has the financial resources to fund any reprovision of the Kingfisher’s facilities and activities.
The lack of explanation of how officers have concluded that there will be no "net loss of community facilities" from the demolition of The Kingfisher Leisure Centre is all the more startling given that both local Core Strategy policy London Plan policy requirements protect against such loss.
Such a confident conclusion by council officers that there IS no net loss is shocking in the absence of concrete evidence that replacement facilities are guaranteed.
the Kingston Core Strategy 2012
The New London Plan 2021 states in POlicy S5 7.3 that any loss would need to be replaced "by equivalent or better provision in terms of quantity and quality in a suitable location". There is NO evidence that Kingston Council has the resources and/or ability to deliver such alternative provision
The fact that officers give SIGNIFICANT WEIGHT in establishing that there will be no net loss of community facilities through the demolition of the Kingfisher to the decision of the Response and Recovery Committee to approve “any” procurement strategies- including replacement of the Kingfisher (point 7.6 of report below) is NOT justified.
That decision does not provide any guarantee that new leisure facilities WILL be provided or that any new leisure facilities will be equivalent or better than those provided at the Kingfisher Leisure Centre, and the decision does not satisfy the Policy requirements of the Core Strategy and London Plan in this regard.
The Planning Committee must reject the proposal to demolish the Kingfisher on this basis alone.
2. The assertion that the application to list the Kingfisher Leisure Centre as an Asset of Community Value has “little weight” is not justified
The council states in 14.4 that – although the application to list the Kingfisher Leisure Centre as an Asset of Community Value is a material planning consideration – because officers conclude in Point 16 of their report that the demolition will NOT result in a “net loss” of community facilities, the application holds “little weight” in the circumstances.
This conclusion is not sound as the demolition has - by nature - to result in a net loss of community facilities and the Council has not made any legally-binding commitment to replace the Kingfisher Leisure Centre.
There will therefore be a continuing net loss of community facilities in Kingston for the foreseeable future if the demolition goes ahead, and there could be a net loss for many years, and maybe forever if the council is not able to carry out its stated plans.
It is all very nice that the Council has consulted residents on what we would like to see in a new leisure centre and to share fancy design ideas with us about what they would love a new centre to look like.
However, unless and until a fully-funded planning application is submitted for a new leisure centre, DEMOLITION of the existing Kingfisher Leisure Centre should NOT be considered.
At the moment, "consultations" and "design" ideas for a new leisure centre are simply pie in the sky ideas with no substance and no reality
The resolution by the Response and Recovery Committee in May 2021 provides no guarantee that the Kingfisher Leisure Centre will be replaced or that ALL the activities of the current centre that make it eligible for listing as an Asset of Community Value will be re-provided.
The officers conclusion that there will be “no net loss of community facilities” is not correct.
3. The planning application lacks a legally-required Heritage Statement
A Heritage Statement must legally be provided as a separate written document. This has not been done. A document bearing this title is blank. It merely states that the Heritage Statement is attached in the Demolition Management Plan (DMP).
This is not the case.
There is no HERITAGE STATEMENT in the DMP, simply a few paragraphs on “Archaeological and Cultural Heritage”. This does not meet the requirements for a Heritage Statement as laid out below and the Application must be REFUSED on this basis:
4. Conditions needed to protect rare archaeological artefacts of possible National Significance that will be exposed to a High Adverse Impact from the demolition and other works are ignored
Incomplete information on the Conditions stipulated by Historic England to protect archaeological artefacts of Regional/ National significance on the site during demolition is included in the report to Planning Committee, and stipulated detailed requirements re. evaluation trenches and removal of foundations and slabs are not written in as Conditions to an approval of this planning application.
No reference is made to possible harm and Conditions needed to avoid harm to archaeological artefacts from infratsructure changes needed for the Museum and Library to be able to continue to function after the Kingfisher has been demolished
5. Information on costs, viability, value for money and a cost-benefit analysis are all lacking, making impossible an informed and intelligent decision by councillors
Councillors are being asked to approve this planning application without any information on the estimated costs of the project under different scenarios and with no risk analysis
This is a critical omission because, if archaeological artefacts are discovered before demolition commences or during demolition, there will be significant delays to the demolition process which will cause costs to rise.
There will also be delays to demolition if stag beetles and their larvae, a species protected by law, are found in any area of the site.
In addition, Councillors do not have the information to make an informed judgement of whether the costs of demolishing the Kingfisher Leisure Centre – and the risk factors that could cause costs to rise (and the amounts by which they could rise)- could – in some scenarios - outweigh the costs and benefits of refurbishing and reopening the existing Centre.
Given the financial strain that the council is currently under, the financial viability of the demolition has to be considered against alternative possible scenarios such as retention of the centre.
No decision to demolish The Kingfisher Leisure Centre should be considered until all scenarios have been fully costed and made public
No information is given about the point at which the demolition project that is the subject of this planning application would be deemed to become FINANCIALLY UNVIABLE, or at which it would make sense to refurbish and reopen the existing Centre.
Such an analysis would include revenue that would arise from re-opening the Leisure Centre at a much earlier date than if the Centre is demolished with a subsequent delay of years before a scheme for the wider site, including residential development that the Council is pursuing with developers on the Cattle Market, is agreed and developed.
There is, of course, no guarantee that the Council will ever have the money to build a new Leisure Centre offering all of the facilities and activities offered by the current Kingfisher Leisure Centre. This is a significant possibility given the significant deficits that the council is facing from its operational activities, the projected deficit of £50 million on the Cambridge Road Estate rebuild, and the decline in value of its commercial property portfolio. The council is not intending to do a full archaeological survey of the wider site of which the Kingfisher forms part in their development plans BEFORE they demolish the Kingfisher. Much of the land around the Kingfisher has NOT ever been developed and is likely to contain significant archaeological finds. The costs of excavating these finds and the delay to any proposed development on the wider site could easily be deemed to make the reprovision of a leisure centre on this site UNVIABLE.
The Archaeological Desk-based Assessment by Pre-Construct Archaeology states that construction of a new Leisure Centre on this site could cause further SIGNIFICANT ADVERSE IMPACT on any archaeological artefacts existing below ground in this situation. The mitigations needed to avoid such adverse impacts and the costs of implementing them needs to be considered when evaluating the viability and the cost-benefit analysis of this application to demolish the existing Kingfisher Leisure Centre. Leave it standing and no damage is done. Demolish the centre and build a new one and the possibility of significant adverse impacts from both demolition and construction activities arise.
6. The Council has not honoured the Proprietorship Register requirement that written consent of Sport England is obtained prior to demolition of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre and has not provided The Planning Committee with any details on this requirement that allow an intelligent and informed decision about whether they are able to approve demolition
Under the Proprietorship Register for Title Number SGL651963 relating to the Kingfisher Site it is written that "no disposition of that part of the registered estate....is to be registered without a written consent signed by The English Sports Council (the trading name for Sports England)".
It appears inconceivable that Sport England would give their written consent to demolition of The Kingfisher Leisure Centre without planning permission for a replacement leisure centre being sought simultaneously with approval for demolition.
There is no evidence that the Council has sought or received consent from Sports England to demolish the Kingfisher or any indication that Sports England would approve to a plan to demolish a leisure centre with no guaranteed reprovision of a swimming pool.
The council asserts in its report to Planning Committee in 15.2 that Sport England consent is not required and that the absence of written consent is not a “material planning consideration”:
However, not seeking written consent from Sport England for the demolition would seem to breach the requirements of the Proprietorship Register.