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  • CarolineShah

The Kingfisher - What will happen next?

We must watch Kingston Council's every step

Kingston Council responded last Friday to the letter sent by Leigh Day on my behalf relating to the council’s approval to demolish The Kingfisher Leisure Centre

Kingston Council has agreed to the request for a planning application for the demolition to be referred back to Planning Committee and that they will not issue any planning permission until after that determination

However, the council has not backed down in its plans to demolish The Kingfisher and has confirmed that the issuance of planning permission for the demolition is likely to be in the first few months of 2022

That means that we’ll need to continue to hold the council to account and make sure it sticks to its own policies protecting invaluable public infrastructure like the Kingfisher

We have managed to stop the council granting themselves planning permission for the demolition of The Kingfisher without any regard having been paid to whether replacement provision will come forward and in what form

You can read Kingston Council’s response to the letter sent by Leigh Day here

Following receipt of the council's response, we heard from Kingston Council in an online meeting this week that they are "committed" to plan for a possible new leisure and community centre on The Kingfisher site

The possible new centre is being shown as at least seven storeys high (a tall building), for which the sources of funding are still unknown, and the cost of which will be at least £40 million PLUS professional fees PLUS necessary contingencies. At the meeting, it was repeated several times that a new centre will be designed to encourage people to do sport on The Fairfield and to "spill" on to the hard-surfaced spaces the council wants to build between the leisure centre and the museum and library and on part of the roof of the building

It should be noted that The Fairfield is also the designated local green space for approximately 5,300 people who will be living in the 2,100 flats at the "regenerated" multiple high-rise towers at the Cambridge Road Estate

We also heard that plans for development on The Cattle Market are at such an early stage that no words such as "tower blocks" could yet be used to describe what might be erected there, despite earlier leaked pictures showing what are clearly high rise blocks across the car park. It is possible that 1000 or more people will be living in blocks on The Cattle Market and will be using The Fairfield as their local green space.

That's an awful lot of people - 6,300 people - to squeeze in to the six acres of green space that The Fairfield offers, alongside all the visitors to Kingston who will be doing sport on The Fairfield at the same time.

So why does Kingston Council want to demolish The Kingfisher?

The council wanted a speedy demolition of The Kingfisher - originally planned to be completed by September 2021 - as an empty site facilitates its plans for the town centre redevelopment of Kingston - the sale to a developer for redevelopment of taller towers at The Guildhall (cash in), sale of The Guildhall main building as hotel (cash in), sale of The Cattle Market to a developer who will build multiple high rise towers on it (cash in).

But - of course - the price for which the council can sell these public assets to a developer will be based on the profit that the developer says they can make from development on that site.

We can assume that the taller and denser and more expensive to buy the flats in each development, the more money the council will get for the sale

But none of this guarantees that a cash-strapped council who has deferred a lot of revenue and capital expenditure this year at least, will be able to afford to spend the proceeds from selling so much of our prime public land on a spanking new leisure centre or how much more money the council will need to raise to fund the vast cost already estimated at £40 million PLUS professional fees PLUS contingencies

And - if the council needs to borrow money to fund this state of the art and hugely expensive new centre or use Community Infrastructure Levy payments to pay for it, where will the money come from to service the debt and what infrastructure will NOT get built that is urgently needed to support the existing population let alone the future massively increased population in the area?

It has been suggested that CIL may be used to fund the new leisure centre - at what cost to communities?

It has also been mentioned that the council might use something called "invest to save" to fund the leisure centre. This is odd, as invest to save appears to be a source of funding either to help public sector organisations become more efficient and effective or to help people on low income pay rents charged by private sector landlords

One last thing to think about is that, once the Kingfisher has been demolished, there will be no leisure facilities on that site any more, and so there will be no facilities that need to be replaced by law or policy

In this situation, the requirement for the council or a developer to deliver at least facilities equal to those of the Kingfisher will no longer apply

We must insist that The Kingfisher is not demolished until we know what the council are offering us in its place, the price we will pay financially and in other ways for the development that is proposed, and the impact on the environment and people with protected characteristics of the council's plans, including of the proposed demolition. And The Kingfisher must not be demolished unless and until we can see that demolition and rebuild is the best option for the people of Kingston

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