Money-saving argument over pool closure won’t hold water

Purley poolCampaigners hoping to keep Purley Pool open might want to consider whether the costs saving argument put forward by Croydon Council for the closure actually… well… holds water.

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.

A crowd of bemused and angered swimmers and gym users gather this morning, when staff failed to open up Waddon Leisure Centre on time

A crowd of bemused and angered swimmers and gym users gather this morning outside £15 million Waddon Leisure Centre, when staff had failed to open up on time

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.

Whitgift School's excellent sports centre and pool cost £6 million less to build than the nearby public Waddon Leisure  Centre

Whitgift School’s excellent sports centre and pool cost £6 million less to build than the nearby public Waddon Leisure Centre

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.

Council leader Tony Newman, left, refuses to investigate how the council offices, where Nathan Elvery, right, works, managed to cost £144 million under the CCURV scheme

Council leader Tony Newman, left, refuses to investigate how the council offices, where Nathan Elvery, right, works, managed to cost Council Tax-payers £144 million under the CCURV scheme

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.


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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Bernard Weatherill House, Croydon Council, Nathan Elvery, New Addington, Planning, Purley, Purley Pool, Purley Way, Sport, Swimming, Tony Newman, URV, Waddon and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Money-saving argument over pool closure won’t hold water

  1. Sport England produce an excellent guide giving the cost of a pool to be in the region of £5 million. OK this does not include extras such as fitness studios etc but they would probably only add £2 million at most. Thus the figures from other developments around London, including Whitgift, look entirely reasonable. If readers disagree with Cllr Newman’s assertions that an investigation is a waste of money then they should write to 10 Downing Street.

  2. Fred Wallis says:

    The Conservatives eventually did decide to keep the pool open. The labour group said they would keep the pool open and also build a leasure centre (that means with a pool) in Purley. This has now been forgotten . The pool can be kept open with minimal costs as many visits by official has shown. This pool is needed by the community and it is in the hands of Mr Newman to do this. The pool should not become a political football all it needs is good decisions and commonsense.

    • Hello Fred.

      “The Conservatives eventually did decide to keep the pool open.”

      Are you able to provide links to the minutes of meetings where such a decision was reached or announced?

      We are just going by what the then leader of the council, Mike Fisher, said in 2010. The council always planned to close Purley once Waddon was open, and that is why so little money has been spent on the place in the past five years or more.

      Croydon Tories forgot to publish any manifesto before last May’s local elections, something seen by many people as a cynical ploy so that they wouldn’t get caught out on a range of issues, including the future of Purley Pool. The absence of any closure announcement in the run-up to the local elections does not exclude the possibility that the council administration – the same council officials that are running the show now as in Jan 2014 – considered or intended to do so, especially with the need to make wide scale cuts to the borough budget as a consequence of the current Government’s policies.

      Closure was certainly on the agenda when there was a developer sniffing around the Purley site previously.

      You also say: “The pool should not become a political football”.

      Isn’t that exactly what your campaign has managed to do when, in the open letter attached to your latest petition, you write, “Please do not penalise us because we live in a ward that voted Tory”, while another petition is being hosted by the Croydon Conservatives, backed by some of the very councillors who had planned to close Purley Pool in 2007 and 2010?

      • Fred Wallis says:

        Thanks for all the comments regarding Purley pool. The decision by the previous Council was to keep Purley Pool open until a swimming pool was built in Purley or nearby. This statement was given to the swimmers by Mike Fisher and can be confirmed by Donald Speakman the cllr for Purley who has repeated this statement.

        • We asked for proof, Fred. Something documented that shows Fisher said this, when and where. There “or nearby” thing is deceiving, too, since it could mean that Waddon is “nearby”.

          So where in official council documents is this recorded?

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  4. davidcallam says:

    I recall a proposal on the Croydon Council website to include a swimming pool in a development on the Lion Green Road car park in Coulsdon.
    I’m told there was a clear understanding that Purley Pool would remain open until both Waddon and Coulsdon pools were operational.
    I know of no plan to build a new pool in Purley.
    The Tory attempt to wash its hands of its original decision is entirely unprincipled; exactly what we have come to expect of our third-rate politicians.

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