Conservative councillor criticises delays in leisure centre plans at 2024 budget meeting

Conservative councillor Rowena Bass raised her concerns about the unfinished Kingfisher Leisure Centre in the council meeting on Thursday February 29, where a detailed report of the 2024 budget was discussed.

The Kingfisher Leisure Centre was closed in December 2019 due to issues with the roof leaking and it was promised to be finished by Autumn 2023 but has not been yet completed.

Cllr Bass said: “The Lib Dems promised us a state-of-the-art leisure centre with rooftop football pictures to be completed by Autumn 2023.

“Yet, all we have to show for the money that is being spent is a massive hole, despite spending 3.7 million on failed designs and demolition.”

In response, Liberal Democrat councillor Alison Holt said: “In this budget we have the Kingston Leisure Centre, it is still there it has not changed, it is still the £40 million. It was there at last year’s budget and it’s there in this year’s budget.”

Cllr Holt is the portfolio holder for economic development and leisure, and the current leisure centre plans are a main concern for her area and portfolio.

In the meeting she said: “We are hoping to bring to committee very soon the new designs announcing a construction partner to deliver the leisure centre and an updated business plan.”

Kingston residents are not happy with the delay of the leisure centre, which has impacted many swimming groups, children’s activities, and university teams.

Lynn Hayes, former head of PE at a local school, used to train the Kingfisher Triathletes at the leisure centre and after the sudden closure they had to move their sessions to a pool in Elmbridge.

Hayes said: “How many kids will be denied the vital lesson of learning to swim due to the appalling decision not to fix the roof?

“We are a borough that sits on a river. Swimming is a life skill.”

Tai Li Ling, Kingston resident, used the leisure centre daily but must now go to the nearest borough or pay a £100+ membership where she can access a swimming pool.

Ling said: “The council has totally failed the community, especially during a time when people are already struggling for money and government cuts are removing vital services to support people’s physical and mental health.”

At the council meeting, Cllr Bass said: “The decision process to knock it down was so flawed that a former Lib Dem member of your group, Jon Tolley, publicly resigned over this issue.”

Jon Tolley, former Liberal Democrat councillor, said he is sad the people he respected misled everyone, and the situation is frustrating because it “affects the poorest” the most.

He said: “The decision to knock down the pool with no plan to replace it was made as people got dazzled by the bright lights of ‘the best leisure centre in London.’”

Liberal Democrat councillor Olly Wehring is the Chair of Kingston and North Kingston Neighbourhood Committee and said: “I massively regret how we got where we got to, but we’re on track with a way more realistic plan now.”

The work on the leisure centre is not due to begin until at least 2025.

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