CROYDON COMMENTARY: The time has long passed for polite petitions seeking to save the council-owned Purley Pool. It’s time for the community to take the initiative.
By STEVEN DOWNES, Editor of Inside Croydon
While Save Purley Pool petitions and banners may have worked in the past to prick the consciences of the conscience-less pricks who run the Town Hall, the chances are that the same approach won’t be successful in saving the public amenity from closure this time around.
The community campaign will need a more robust, initiative-seizing approach, to put Oliver “Shit Show” Lewis, the officer-led cabinet member in charge, on the back-foot.
And the thing is, the proactive approach has had some recent precedents in and around Croydon to show Purley campaigners the way forward.
Public assets, often large and complex properties, can be run by the public, in the interests of the public. And protected by the public.
The running of Crystal Palace Park was recently handed over to a locals-led trust which has plans to restore and improve the Grade II-listed park after years of disinterest and disinvestment by Bromley Council.
When, a decade ago, Croydon Council gave up on the David Lean Cinema on the grounds that they couldn’t think of a way to pay for the art-house cinema in the Clocktower, right next to the Town Hall, a community group was started and volunteers campaigned tirelessly until they got the venue reopened, with them running it, these days under the banner of a Community Interest Company.
In a similar manner, the formation of a Purley Pool community trust could provide the basis on which to carry forward the fight.
While Croydon Council might be bankrupt, financially and in terms of imagination, there are alternative sources of funding out there which no one at Fisher’s Folly has had the wit to apply for, but which could help pay towards any real capital costs of maintaining the centre and enabling it to reopen.
Indeed, the notion of successful bid-writing by the council, helping community groups, charities and schools tap into the rich source of funding to help put new roofs on their bowls clubs, provide new play equipment for the kids’ playground or to build new netball courts in local schools, was presented to senior Labour councillors in 2013, and then promptly forgotten by Tony Newman and his numpties.
I know, because I wrote the proposal paper, shreds of which survived long enough to make it into Croydon Labour’s 2014 election manifesto.
Today, in Purley, a community trust could apply for a slice of the £1billion per year of grant funding which is available from bodies such as the National Lottery or the London Marathon charity. There are many others.
The trust’s first act probably should be to submit an application for ACV status for the Purley Leisure Centre.
ACV is Asset of Community Value. The leisure centre is assuredly that.
Such an application would put Lewis and the council in a very tight corner. The application for ACV status has to be considered by… Croydon Council.
Could they possibly refuse and argue that Purley does not deserve ACV status?
Were they to do so, the trust could challenge the council through the courts – something which would not be possible if, come the new year, Lewis confirms the permanent closure of the pool and gym on grounds of budget savings.
If an ACV were to be granted, the community trust would then need to organise in order to take on the management and running of the centre, just as their neighbours who took on Crystal Palace Park, Stanley Halls or the David Lean Cinema did.
Serious negotiations could be undertaken with the council for the centre being leased at a modest, perhaps peppercorn, rent, and then operated at nil cost to the council.
With the trust taking charge of the upkeep of the building, it might then pay for operators to run the venue, out of the revenue that the revived centre would generate.
It won’t be easy or straightforward. It might not even work.
But with the council apparently determined to close the leisure centre permanently, it must offer a better chance of success than another round of primary school posters and polite petitions.
Read more: Purley Pool closure planned to help GLL repay £279,000 loan
Read more: Purley campaign demands answers over pool’s lack of funding
Read more: Purley Pool remains shut despite £1m grant to council
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