Kingston council has voted 26 to nine against the petition for the Kingfisher Leisure Centre against demolishion without a guaranteed and legally-binding commitment.
On Tuesday 12 October, the Kingston council held a meeting open to the public to discuss and vote on the petition, which received 1601 verified signatures and was presented by Caroline Shah.
Shah voiced the dissatisfaction of many Kingston locals with the handling of the Kingfisher and the lack of discussion with the public.
“There has been no consultation on the demolition of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre,” Shah said. “The cost of replacing the roof was put at £3m originally and then rose to £3.5m. How much is it going to cost to build the new leisure centre and where will the money come from?”
Throughout the meeting, councillors on both sides debated their reasons for or against the petition, with more councillors raising similar issues regarding the high costs and unrealistic timelines.
Councillor Sharron Falchikov-Sumner said that all along there has been an issue of trust, misdirection and also a complete lack of transparency. “I feel that if you had repaired the Kingfisher to start off with and then looked at your transformation plan, people would have been more engaging,” Sumner said. “They may have believed what you were saying. But they don’t because you hid for a year that you were going to demolish the Kingfisher.”
In December 2019, the Kingfisher Leisure Centre was closed due to roof repairs but Kingston council later announced in 2020 that they planned on demolishing the building to rebuild an entirely new facility by October 2024.
Last year, The River published an article regarding the KU swimming society being unable to continue as normal due to the closure of the Kingfisher and now Kingston council’s vote will likely mean more delays for any water activities for both students and locals alike.
Kingston local Laura King is one of many residents who said that she feels it would be wrong to demolish the leisure centre.
“Kingston needs another pool. We only have one in New Malden and it is not enough to accommodate all the people in the area,” King said. “I feel we have been totally misled by Kingston Council.”
Likewise, Patrick Goodacre, another Kingston local, said he felt disbelief regarding the demolition of the Kingfisher and voiced concerns about the impact rebuilding the facility will have in the current climate.
On the other hand, Kingston local Lolly Mason said she has no concerns about losing the old Kingfisher so long as it’s replaced with new facilities.
Mason said: “I’ve seen rumours online about tower blocks being built in its place and I think that’s why some residents are concerned, but the rumours seem to be unfounded.”
“The council have been very public with their plans for a new modern centre and they have just gone through a lengthy consultation process to design it around residents’ feedback, so I’m assuming they will go ahead with this or something pretty similar.”