CROYDON IN CRISIS: The disparity in provision of leisure facilities between the north and south of the borough has sent mayoral candidates trying to make a budget splash. By WALTER CRONXITE, Political Editor
The Tory opposition group at the Town Hall, after voting in favour of the Labour-controlled council’s budgets in 2019 and 2020, before the borough went bust, are tonight taking a different tack, aimed at wrong-footing Hamida Ali’s majority group.
Jason Perry, the leader of the Conservative minority group on the council, has put forward a costed and paid-for plan that could see Purley Leisure Centre re-open by the end of 2024, using more than £3million set aside in community funds paid for by developers.
The Tory plan has even been signed-off and approved as viable by Richard Ennis, the recently departed finance director. They claim that the money they would use is not being taken away from any other part of the council budgets and has never been earmarked for other projects.
The move has already sent Val Shawcross, the Labour mayoral candidate, scurrying south to Purley to record a video outlining her own plans for a new Purley pool.
Shawcross, too, wants to use money from the Community Infrastructure Levy, but not, as the Tory amendment proposes, to repair and reopen the pool. Shawcross now suggests using the developers’ money “to fund a feasibility study to kick-start a project to redevelop the existing site and provide a brand-new quality state-of-the-art facility”.
It appears to be a kick-it-into-the-long-grass move by Shawcross, and some way short of definitely reopening the pool or providing a replacement. The pledge that Shawcross made in November, when seeking selection by Labour as the party’s candidate, now generates a 404 page error on her website.
While the Tory make-do-and-mend proposal would still take two years to deliver, Shawcross admits that under her plan it could be up to five years before the south of the borough once again has a swimming pool and public gym facility.
But Shawcross has, at least, looked at Purley Pool as a mayoral election issue. Her Labour Party colleagues who currently run the council, such as council leader Hamida Ali and her cabinet member responsible for sport, Oliver “Shitshow” Lewis, have remained entirely silent on the matter, with no proposal for the venue’s future.
There has been a near-constant “Save Purley Pool Campaign” over the last decade, and two previous attempts by the council to close the facility. But there’s never been any coherent planning from the Town Hall, under Tory or Labour control, to repair or replace the pool.
Purley Leisure Centre has not re-opened since the first covid lockdown in March 2020. Costly repairs required to the 1970s-built building’s air filtration systems have been put forward among the reasons for its continued closure, which has served to highlight the disparity in public sports provision between the north and south of the borough.
Katharine Street sources suggest that the Purley site, attached to a disused supermarket and multistorey car park, is also wanted by the cash-strapped council for potentially lucrative development, something that is impossible with the leisure centre still operating.
Such an asset disposal – much beloved by Perry’s Tory Party colleagues in government – would also be made impossible if the Croydon Conservatives’ amendment gets passed tonight or, it would seem, if Perry wins the mayoral election on May 5.
The Tory amendment is unusual in that it actually provides a costed and apparently viable proposal, rather than the usual yah-boo political point-scoring that is the nature of these Town Hall moves.
Entitled the “Purely [sic] Pool Refurbishment and Modernisation Project”, the Tory amendment calls the swimming pool saga the worst example of the Labour administration’s “sheer pettiness and vindictiveness”, claiming that the council “pursued a policy of running it down”.
They state, “This amendment seeks to bring Purley Pool back to life, return it to its status as a much-loved and needed local facility, to provide again a suitable place for schoolchildren to learn how to swim and to properly respond to the needs of local residents.”
The Tories claim that their plan to use will provide the money for the required mechanical engineering and refurbishment works necessary to bring the leisure centre back to full operational standard, as well as provide funds for the venue’s operation.
They say that the total cost of the project will be £3.195million spread across four years. The annual running costs of £50,000 will also be met from CIL monies.
The council’s rules for using Community Infrastructure Levy money require, “Provision, improvement, replacement, operation, or maintenance of public sports and leisure.”
The Conservatives say, “This clearly provides for the use of CIL to fund this project.”
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