The pool at Purley was earmarked for closure in 2014 by the previous Conservative administration at the Town Hall, and the Labour group which has assumed control of the council since last year has decided to follow through with that Tory policy to save around £750,000 in essential safety and maintenance work on the pool, and potentially millions in future years.
There is also the possibility that the site of Purley Pool and the now disused Sainsbury’s supermarket below it could be flogged off at a tidy profit for development. This would leave Waddon Leisure Centre, ill-served by public transport and without adequate car parking space, as the closest public swimming pool for all residents of Coulsdon, Kenley and Purley.
That’s when it is open: this morning, the doors at Waddon Leisure Centre were closed for business at the usual opening time. No explanation was offered when the manager arrived. Maybe he had had a late night?
The new facility has already had to undergo emergency closures because of windows being blown in and other snagging faults.
Waddon opened in January 2013 having been built at a cost to the Council Tax-payers of more than £15 million through the CCURV urban regeneration joint venture with John Laing, which the council had signed up to under the previous Conservative administration.
Purley Pool, while a much older facility with a number of maintenance issues following years of disinvestment and neglect, has tended to be a more reliable offering for the public.
Yet while the council cannot find the funds to keep Purley Pool open, they have also announced £17 million in the budget to build a new pool in New Addington.
£17 million, no less.
How did the council officials arrive at this price tag for a new swimming pool?
According to a senior source in Katharine Street, “They took the £15 million cost of Waddon Leisure Centre, and lumped on another £2million to allow for inflation.” Such is the level of competence within Croydon Council when dealing with matters of high finance.
Not for the first time, it all means that the Council Tax-payers of Croydon end up paying well over the odds. What’s worse, if our councillors and council officials actually bothered to ensure best value on council projects, much-used and appreciated facilities such as Purley Pool could be allocated enough cash to keep them functioning.
We now know we are paying at least £100 million more than the market rate for the council’s new offices at Fisher’s Folly, which was built at greater cost – per square foot of office space – than The Shard. Those Croydon Council offices, total cost at least £144 million, were also built under the secretive CCURV arrangement with John Laing. Is it just coincidence that these CCURV public buildings represent such poor value?
A little research shows that Waddon Leisure Centre, at more than £15 million according to council officials, cost Croydon Council Tax-payers at least £6 million more than similar swimming and sports facilities built around the capital at the same time.
Less than a mile from Waddon, Whitgift School built its private sports centre, with pool, gyms, halls and rooms – a larger build than the public leisure centre on Purley Way – for just £9 million (with a lump of help towards the cost from public Lottery funding). That’s £6 million less than the public facility built for Croydon Council. Or £6 million that might otherwise have been spent on properly maintaining Purley Pool, or paying towards a public music festival or running the borough’s public libraries.
Over the river, in Labour-run Redbridge, they are about to start work on a similar facility to that which we have in Waddon, with a 25-metre pool and gym. And all at a cost-cutting price tag of just £3.25 million.
Or nearly £12 million less than the Council Tax-payers of Croydon paid for Waddon.
And £14 million less than the proposed cost of the pool at New Addington.
Ever felt you were being taken for a mug? Wait till you hear this…
Across the borough boundary in Lambeth, the council there has managed to deliver a new public pool and library in Clapham for the grand total of … Nothing.
And at Streatham, the old pool and Silver Blades skating rink have long gone, in a deal with Tesco’s which has seen a superstore built, plus flats and the new “hub”, including a public pool and modern skating rink, again at a cost to the council of … Zero pounds.
Or £15 million less than Croydon Council coughed up for Waddon Leisure Centre.
Of course, even within a few miles in London, property prices vary.
Allowing developers to build and flog some real estate in Clapham in return for public infrastructure may well generate a different bottom line from Waddon when the sums are all added up.
But could it really be as much as £15 million different?
How has Redbridge managed to get a £3.25 million price tag on building a pool, when in New Addington we’re told it will cost £17million?
And where is all this public money going?
These are the sort of questions which the new administration might be expected to investigate. The sums are so vast, surely the matter cannot be ignored? Yet Tony Newman, the Labour leader of the council, has described any inquiry into the cost of builds under CCURV as “a waste of money”.
When times are tough and money’s short, there’s even greater need for public servants and elected councillors to ensure the town gets real value for money, so that valued public facilities such as Purley Pool can be properly maintained and kept in use. Or at least a decent bargain can be agreed with potential developers so that public facilities are replaced and enhanced at minimum public cost, as appears to have happened at Clapham and Streatham.
Purley Pool campaigners have risked alienating some of their public sympathy by allowing the local Tories, who are far from innocent in the matter of the pool’s decline, to hijack the campaign and publish online a couple of blatantly political petitions.
But they will asking a series of questions of the council and the Labour leadership, with demonstrations outside the Town Hall at 5.45pm on Monday January 26 (before attending that evening’s council meeting), and outside Ruskin House on Coombe Road at 7.30pm on Tuesday, January 27.
Don’t expect any proper answers.
- Pool closure leaves Labour candidate Emily Benn high and dry
- Flip! Flop! Labour’s shambles over school playing fields keeps rolling on
- Croydon’s council offices cost more to build than The Shard
Coming to Croydon
- David Lean Cinema, Hannah Arendt, Jan 20
- David Lean Cinema, The Imitation Game, Jan 22
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
- Storytime (for under-8s), Oval Tavern, Addiscombe, Jan 24
- David Lean Cinema, Night Will Fall, Jan 27 (Holocaust Memorial Day)
- David Lean Cinema, Kon-Tiki, Jan 29
- Storytime (for under-8s), Oval Tavern, Addiscombe, Jan 31
- Man to Man group session, St Andrew’s Church, Feb 3
- Soul Symphony Community Choir taster session, Feb 3
- Eagle Improv, Spread Eagle Theatre, Feb 4
- Storytime (for under-8s), Oval Tavern, Addiscombe, Feb 7
- Tales of Love, Lost and Found, Spread Eagle Theatre, Feb 7
- Man to Man group session, St Andrew’s Church, Feb 10
- Uninvited Guests, Spread Eagle Theatre, Feb 11-13
- Man to Man group session, St Andrew’s Church, Feb 17
- Norwood Society talk: Crystal Palace and Dulwich, Feb 19
- Man to Man group session, St Andrew’s Church, Feb 24
- Rosie Wilby, Spread Eagle Theatre, Feb 27
- Amy Wadge and Luke Jackson, Stanley Halls, Feb 28
- Man to Man group session, St Andrew’s Church, Mar 3
- Holmes Alone, Spread Eagle Theatre, Mar 6
- Man to Man group session, St Andrew’s Church, Mar 10
- Eagle Improv, Spread Eagle Theatre, Mar 11
- Iain Lee, Spread Eagle Theatre, Mar 14
- Man to Man group session, St Andrew’s Church, Mar 17
- Norwood Society talk: Charlies Dickens in Norwood, Mar 19
- Man to Man group session, St Andrew’s Church, Mar 24
- Eagle Improv, Spread Eagle Theatre, Apr 8
- Anatomy of the Piano, Spread Eagle Theatre, Apr 15
- Patrick Monahan, Spread Eagle Theatre, Apr 16-17
- Norwood Society: Balloons and airships at Crystal Palace, Apr 16
- South Norwood Community Festival, July 5
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