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  • CarolineShah

Penniless Kingston Council must halt Kingfisher demolition

Updated: Jun 23, 2022

In a legal ruling in the case of The Health and Safety Executive versus Wolverhampton City Council, July 2012, Judge Lord Carnwath, stated that “general principles would normally dictate that a public authority should take into account the financial consequences for the public purse of its decisions

Kingston Council stated in 2020 that the estimated cost then to develop a new leisure centre to replace The Kingfisher Leisure Centre was about £40 million plus professional fees, in sum about £50 million.

Since that time, Kingston Council has not disclosed any information about how much the predicted cost of building the planned leisure centre has increased or whether - according to general principles of public interest - current required expenditure to deliver a new leisure centre is proportionate to the aim to be achieved through its delivery taking in to account any more economic ways of achieving the same objective

This lack of information from Kingston Council is despite inflation being predicted to rise to 11% by the end of 2022 and huge supply chain issues causing massive delays across the construction industry. These facts have simply been ignored

Repairing the roof of The Kingfisher might well be a more economic way of achieving the objective of the new leisure centre, whatever that might turn out to be in reality, as we do not know

The council has not raised any of the money needed to build a new leisure centre and its ability to raise and service a loan that could end up being nearer £100 million than £50 million is questionable in the current economic environment with rising interest rates and inflation, and shortage of building materials

Kingston Council already has nearly £400 million of long term debt, and faces increased interest payments on its Public Works Loan Board loans as rates rise. The council is already deferring core spending in order to balance its financial accounts and paid £22 million in interest expense in 2020/21, up from £19 million the previous year – before any increase in UK interest rates had even taken place

The council’s debt figure also includes nearly £50 million in risky, costly and legally-questionable Lender Only Borrower Only (LOBO) loans

Liverpool Council recently had to raise £107 million in debt in order to extricate itself from £65 million of LOBO loans, given the punitive exit clauses attached to the LOBO debt

Kingston Council also accounted for £5 million in interest expense on and declines in the fair value of its commercial investment properties in 2020/21, a cost that is likely to rise as interest rates increase further and if commercial property prices fall

The justification for raising £50 million or £60 million or £70 million or more in debt to provide a new leisure centre when The Kingfisher can be repaired and reopened at a fraction of the cost should surely have been presented by council officers to the Planning Committee of Kingston Council for consideration when deciding whether to approve plans for a replacement leisure centre?

It was not

Nor was meaningful information presented to councillors on the ways in which the plans to develop a new leisure centre are linked to a business case to develop The Cattle Market Car Park for high-rise housing. This should surely have been a vital consideration for the committee in determining the financial consequences of its decision to approve or reject the plans for a new centre?

Members of the Planning Committee who gave their approval to plans for a new leisure centre therefore saw no evidence to allow them to conclude that such a significant commitment represents value for money for residents and is in the public interest and indeed Members did not consider these issues in reaching their decision on the application

In this situation, Kingston Council must surely halt its plans to demolish The Kingfisher Leisure Centre and seriously reconsider the option to refurbish the centre and mend the roof and to reopen the centre to the public at the earliest possible opportunity?
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