CROYDON IN CRISIS: More embarrassment for Tony Newman as Croydon-owned sports centre in his ward remains closed, while fears have been revived that the Labour-run council could flog off some libraries for housing
Several of the borough’s public libraries and sports and leisure facilities, such as Purley Pool and Croydon Arena, which were all closed because of the coronavirus lockdown in March, may now not reopen because of the council’s cash crisis.
That was the stark warning issued by Simon Hall, the cabinet member for finance, speaking at a virtual meeting of a handful Labour councillors earlier this week.
The council has £1.5billion debts and since March has a £62million-sized covid-shaped hole in its budget. Emergency financial measures, including 20 per cent cuts in spending and hundreds of job cuts, are expected to be discussed at a council cabinet meeting on Monday.
Hall’s admission at the private meeting to discuss council policy was not even mentioned last night when the Town Hall Labour group held its first meeting since July. The information has certainly not been shared publicly. Until now.
It confirms the worst fears of some of the borough’s biggest sports clubs, and could yet cause considerable embarrassment to council leader Tony Newman: Croydon Arena, the home of the local athletics club and non-league football side Croydon FC, sits in the Woodside ward which he is supposed to represent.
It has been suggested by one Labour councillor that it could cost £200,000 to reopen the Arena – which sounds a lot, until you consider it is less than half what was paid in a “golden handshake” to departing council CEO Jo Negrini.
The Arena is operated under contract for the council by GLL. Although other leisure centres, at New Addington, Waddon, Thornton Heath and South Norwood, started operating again in July and have all since reopened their swimming pools, there has been no announcement of any plans for Croydon Arena, Purley Pool or Monks Hill Leisure Centre.
The 1970s-built Purley Pool has long seemed to be a money pit, with the site, adjoining a multi-storey car park and disused Sainsbury’s supermarket, eyed by profit-hungry housing developers. The “Save Purley Pool” campaign has been revived with an online petition started.
The operational funding of the borough’s leisure centres is supposed to be the responsibility of GLL under a cross-subsidy model where the better-used centres, such as New Addington, help pay the bills at the others.
No one at the council has offered any explanation why GLL is not being kept to its contract at the three closed centres.
The management of the borough’s 13 public libraries have been back under the council’s direct control since 2018, following the collapse of out-sourcing giant Carillion.
The council’s covid-19 cashflow crunch, therefore, may well explain the continued closure of eight of the libraries, and may also prompt fears that the Labour-run council might yet break a promise not to flog off the sites to housing developers.
That was a promise only given after the council was exposed as having hired expensive consultants to deliver a report which recommended doing exactly that at four libraries: Norbury, Shirley, Purley and Coulsdon.
Those four are among the eight public libraries which remain with their doors firmly locked, their bookshelves and public access computers gathering dust. The other closed libraries are South Norwood, Broad Green, Sanderstead and Bradmore Green.
Given the wide-ranging nature of the council’s programme of job cuts, it seems inevitable that some library staff may be among those made redundant.
Since the reopening of five libraries in July, the council has remained silent on the status of the rest of its library estate.
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