Councillors have warned that Kingston Council’s promise to deliver a brand new leisure complex by 2024 is unrealistic.
The Kingfisher Leisure Centre was shut in December 2019 due to structural safety concerns with the roof.
Since then the building has been sitting empty with no renovation or repairs having been carried out.
Exclusive new footage shows scaffolding that appears to be holding up the roof inside, overgrown ivy that has taken over the building and the metal fencing which surrounds it, making the entire premises an eyesore.
Conservative councillor Kevin Davis said: “Having a new pool by 2024 would be optimistic given the speed at which a council moves to get these things done.
“The Kingfisher has been closed for well over a year now and we have got nowhere other than deciding we will make a plan.”
Green councillor Sharon Sumner claimed that residents have been let down by the Council in its handling of the Kingfisher, and that construction planners have advised her that it could take up to eight years to complete such a big build.
She said: “There is a natural and justifiable distrust about how long it’s going to take to rebuild the leisure centre, I don’t think it’s going to be three years, because we’re talking about a major project.”
Sumner reported that the previous Conservative council had a very similar plan involving a new 22-storey tower block and shutting the Kingfisher or the Cattle Market.
The Council’s response
Members of the Kingston neighbourhood Facebook page have aired their grievances with the Council’s lack of transparency.
Liberal Democrat councillor Jon Tolley said he did not believe the Council was being purposefully dishonest in its prediction of 2024 as a completion date, but said he thought the decision-makers were being “naive” and “too hopeful” that it would be finished so soon.
One Facebook member said: “Too many councillors fob people off and do not want transparency because they think the people that they serve are idiots.”
The Council has launched a community consultation, with the aim to hear locals’ feedback about plans to build a new leisure complex, which is open for comments until April 25.
In a statement, the Council said: “At this stage the Council has not taken any decision on the site and no discussions are taking place with developers regarding the site.
“A business case is due before Committee in mid-May which will set out a range of options for consideration.
“The way in which sites will be delivered is therefore yet to be determined, the options for which are being explored as part of the initial stage of work.”
Despite these efforts, distrust of the Council is prevalent among the local community.
One Facebook member said: “They [the Council] seem to take no notice of what the residents have to say or what they would actually like.
“It’s a meaningless gesture [the consultation] to make themselves look good, but the Council just go ahead and do whatever they want regardless.”
Kingston childrens’ water safety
With the leisure centre out of order for at least the next couple of years, the only other public swimming pool in the borough is in New Malden.
Sumner told the Kingston Courier that the New Malden pool is very run down, already overstretched in capacity, and does not have room for more swimming lessons.
Many parents have raised concerns that children will not be able to learn to swim, although swimming lessons are a mandatory part of the national curriculum.
Kingston resident Angela AP said: “The closure of the Kingfisher has had a huge impact on our family.
“My children were taking swimming classes there and I am very concerned that their swimming confidence has gone.
“Swimming is of particular importance for all local residents but especially for our children as Kingston is sitting on the Thames.”
According to the Royal National Lifeboat institution, Teddington Lifeboat Station were called out to 46 river safety incidents between 2010 to 2020, some of which involved children.
Guidance from Sports Generation states: “Teaching water safety from a young age is so important because it is key for children to understand the dangers in the water.
“We believe swimming is a non-negotiable life skill that parents should look to acquire for their children as soon as possible.”
Widening the inequality gap
When swimming lessons are allowed again post-lockdown, many residents are concerned that children will only be able to learn to swim if their guardians can afford to pay for access to a private pool.
Sumner said: “At the Green Party, we strongly believe that families of all incomes should be able to access leisure facilities, not just those that can afford private gym memberships, it’s something that our members have really taken to heart.
“One of our constituents, who has two part-time jobs just to try to keep going, told me her only piece of sanity is being able to go to spin classes and the gym at the Kingfisher.
“She can’t afford to join a private gym and where she lives it is really hard to get to New Malden.”