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  • CarolineShah

Demise of Kingston's Kingfisher Leisure Centre means time for residents to make our voices heard

Updated: May 3


The Kingfisher - a fable of manipulated public sector decision-making

I want to thank everyone for your support in fighting to prevent Kingston Council’s plans to demolish The Kingfisher Leisure Centre without any firm plans for its replacement


We have most definitely succeeded in making sure that the questionable demolition of Kingston's much-valued town centre leisure centre, The Kingfisher, does not go ahead at least without a commitment to replace it

Our efforts and the subsequent letter to Kingston Council from solicitors Leigh Day, based on the Opinion of Jenny Wigley QC, forced the council to move ahead more quickly with its plans for a replacement leisure centre and to lay out clearly and explicitly the facilities that such a centre should contain.


Our efforts also meant that Kingston Council has at least submitted a planning application for a new leisure centre before agreeing demolition of The Kingfisher, although the date on which the application will come to committee for approval has not yet been agreed and the planning application could be subject to change at any time


There is also no certainty that all the facilities that the council has included in its planning application for a new leisure centre will be delivered


However, officers laid out to Members at the Planning Committee on 23 March 2022 that it is their intention to deliver those facilities, and we have no choice now but to place our trust in the assurances proffered by the officers of Kingston Council as justification for demolition:


“In light of the Council’s commitment to provide a leisure centre with equivalent or better provision in terms of quantity and quality demonstrated by the full range of resolutions and consequential actions the Council has taken, and funding it has provided, coupled with the recently lodged planning application for a replacement leisure centre, and also given that the current facility has been closed for over 2 years, officers consider that the development would not result in the net loss of community facilities and as such the principle of development is considered to be acceptable.”


We should nevertheless observe that our elected Members did not question why the resolution to provide a new leisure centre also includes - obliquely stated but unambiguous nonetheless - the possibility that some of the facilities included currently in the planning application that has come forward may NOT eventually be provided in a new public centre but be provided by privately run clubs and facilities around the area. This could eventually result in a breach of policy requirements for equivalent or better facilities to be provided by the council when a loss occurs. And Members did not question the absence of any equalities impact assessment of the impact on people with protected characteristics of the absence of any public swimming pool and other public leisure facilities in Kingston Town for years to come


How can our elected representatives say they represented residents' interests when they did not question the basis of the resolution before them?


As regards the successful listing of The Kingfisher Leisure Centre as an Asset of Community Value by community group, Save Royal Kingston, officers repeated their commitment to re-provide at least the facilities offered by The Kingfisher, stating when recommending demolition that they gave the listing little weight because the application to demolish The Kingfisher “would not result in the net loss of community facilities, because re-provision is sufficiently certain.”


Sport England still object to the demolition of The Kingfisher Leisure Centre

Officers disregarded Sport England's objection on the basis that:


“in light of the Council’s commitment to provide a leisure centre with equivalent or better provision in terms of quantity and quality demonstrated by the full range of resolutions and consequential actions the Council has taken, and funding it has provided, coupled with the recently lodged planning application for a replacement leisure centre, and also given that the current facility has been closed for over 2 years,… the demolition would not result in the net loss of community facilities and as such the principle of development is considered to be acceptable.”


Kingston Council has not yet published Sport England’s response to the planning application for a new leisure centre


I have requested the response under a Freedom of Information Act request


There is still the big question of whether it makes sound financial and business sense for Kingston Council to spend at least £40 million, plus another £10 million odd in professional fees, to build a new leisure centre when The Kingfisher Leisure Centre could have its roof repaired and be refurbished at a fraction of the cost, and of how much a new centre will end up costing the council and local taxpayers as we enter a period of rising interest rates and higher inflation


Then there is the question of whether the provision of a new leisure centre will be put at risk if explicitly-linked plans for high-rise development on the adjacent Cattle Market do not materialise


The current Council has decided that this is the right way forward and we have done all that we can to stop them from voting to demolish The Kingfisher


A final question is why Kingston Council has focused on rapidly pushing through massive development and regeneration plans on public land such as the replacement of The Kingfisher, development of The Cattle Market and demolition and rebuild of The Cambridge Road Estate in to a mini high-rise cityscape, but delayed production of Kingston's Local Plan - which would require a full Strategic Environmental Assessment, a Habitats Regulations Assessment and an Equalities Impact Assessment of the impacts of the huge growth that such plans entail and which is meant to offer protection against over-development


Not one political party has stood up for residents over the seven year period since The Direction of Travel 2016 was pushed through by Kingston Tories and tried to stop the plans for the over-development of Kingston


Why not?





Published by Caroline Shah at 205 KT2 5JY

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