Following an announcement this morning by Tony Newman, the council leader, the only public swimming pool serving a vast catchment area in the south of the borough can now be confident that it will stay open until… May 8. That’s the day after the General Election, in case you were unsure.
The announcement came this morning, just days after Newman held “an urgent meeting” with campaigners, and ahead of what was expected to be a mass protest at the Town Hall tonight.
Newman had also been summoned to an “emergency” briefing of the Croydon South Labour group tomorrow night, since the plan to close Purley Pool in April, all for want of £780,000 towards urgent maintenance work, was announced without anyone in the Croydon Labour leadership bothering to consider what sort of effect the decision might have on the (albeit extremely slim) election prospects of The Hon Emily Benn, their party’s candidate in the strongly Conservative seat.
This is not a U-turn by Labour, just the latest flip flop by Tony Newman’s group since they took charge of the Town Hall in June.
This latest reverse will do nothing for the political career prospects of Simon Hall, the cabinet member responsible for the borough’s finances, who made the call to stop maintenance funding for the pool, around about the same time that he presided over the clusterfuck that was the Labour group’s flip-flopping position over the sale, or otherwise, of school playing fields.
Hall appears to have a bit of a downer on fitness and sport: it was he who also agreed to the sale of the Addington Palace golf course (also in the south of the borough), without any prior discussion at council (sound familiar?) and at a knockdown price (ditto?).
The stay of execution for Purley Pool will be very familiar to residents and to Inside Croydon’s loyal reader: back in 2011 we reported a previous announcement of a reversal of a decision to close the pool by the then leader of the Tory-run council, Mike #WadGate Fisher.
On that occasion, Fisher promised to keep the pool open until… 2014. A policy of malign neglect towards Purley Pool, with little money spent on maintaining it or improving it, has been in place ever since. And so the closure plans announced last month appear simply to be the Labour group – once again – implementing the policies of their Tory predecessors, presumably under strict instructions from council officials.
The arrangement had always been to build a new leisure centre at Waddon – which cost at least £10 million more than it might, built under the Tories’ disastrous CCURV joint venture with John Laing – and another new facility at Lion Green Road, Coulsdon, and then close down the increasingly costly to maintain pool at Purley. Waddon opened two years ago, while the Coulsdon pool seems to have been forgotten by everyone other than those that live there.
In the meantime, Croydon’s Conservatives, who rely so much on getting councillors elected from Purley, Coulsdon and Kenley, kept schtumm about the fate of Purley Pool ahead of last year’s local elections (now you know why Croydon Tories didn’t publish any election manifesto…).
Today’s reprieve for Purley hardly appears to be a long-term solution, and it would be a fair guess that, were a developer to come in and offer hard cash for the site of the pool and the long-disused supermarket beside it, the council would strike a deal immediately.
“The pool has almost reached the end of its life,” Newman said this morning, displaying a very recently acquired expertise in civil engineering. “However, we believe that we can find a way to keep it open until that time comes.”
The announcement of the closure has proved to be the latest own goal by Newman & Co, and needlessly invited attack from the Conservative candidate for Croydon South, millionaire Chris Philp.
Philp is inheriting a 16,000-vote majority in Croydon South, against a Labour group which appears profoundly disinterested in the south of the borough. Destined to be the MP for the area until he grows bored with the notion, don’t be surprised if Philp’s election leaflets from now on portray him as the “saviour of Purley Pool”.
Inside Croydon has a proposition through which Philp could really be the saviour of the facility, guaranteeing the long-term future of the pool, which has clearly come to mean so much to Philp since he was introduced to the place about six weeks ago.
Philp is a man of considerable means, and if Croydon Council sold him the naming rights for £700,000 per year, the “Philp Purley Pool” could continue operating indefinitely. Or at least for 18 months. It is surely the sort of Private-Public deal which the entrepreneurial Philp would endorse, and it will surely prove his commitment to the area.
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