Kingston Council unveiled more of its proposals for a new leisure centre in Kingston in a public exhibition at the Richard Mayo Centre on Saturday.
Kingston has been without a leisure centre since the closure of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre in 2019.
The exhibition gave a chance for residents in the area to meet the team heading up the project, and talk with them about any updates on plans that may have occurred in the last few months.
Despite the decision to revise initial proposals for a centre in March 2023 for economic reasons, the council has worked quickly to ensure that this new proposal has reached the final stages of stage two of the design process.
Project Director Chris Jones, who is working on his fifth leisure centre project, said: “Of course people saw that the [last] project was delayed because of what happened with the previous one, but we’ve moved this one forward now.
“We’re moving forward quite rapidly in terms of developing a leisure centre so from going back to the committee last June to being now at the end of stage two, it’s going really well.”
Jones, who last worked on the creation of the Aquatic Centre for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, explained that the next big step is to go back to the committee in March to ask for approval to continue the project, and appoint a construction contractor.
Jones said: “I’m confident in terms of bringing a construction contractor in. I’m confident in terms of the timelines we’re putting forward.
“Subject to us getting planning permission, there should be no reason why in 2027 there isn’t a new leisure centre opening in Kingston.”
The plans include a 25m 8-lane competitive swimming pool designed collaboratively with Swim England and local sports and aquatic clubs.
This would mean clubs like the Kingston Royals would have a proper training facility, something they have never had in the borough before.
Jones said: “With a moveable floor they’ll be able to drop it down and have a full 1.8m deep pool, there’ll be timing pads in there, so you’ll be able to do proper competitive swimming for the first time really in Kingston.”
Specific plans are also in place for school children when they visit the centre.
There will be a specific entrance for them that will be directly next to the changing rooms and the pool, to ensure that all safeguarding measures are abided by.
Jones said: “It’s the one sport which also saves your life, and when you live next to such a big body of water like the Thames, it’s really important that children learn to swim.”
The new ideas present a sizeable expansion on the Kingfisher, with the gym being twice as big as well as including more activity studio spaces.
There will also be a sports hall that did not exist previously for people to play games like badminton and basketball.
Two saunas and two steam rooms will also be included in the health suite that is being built.
So far, there has been three rounds of public engagement that have achieved over 7000 responses, either in person or online.
Before this round of exhibitions, 390 people had attended the events that had been organised.
The event on Saturday was the fourth and final exhibition that took place in January.
The majority of public responses provided have been centred around ensuring that the new development process is a quick one, as well as making sure the new community building is family-friendly.
David, a resident of Kingston for the last 23 years, is happy with the plans that he believes are long overdue. “It looks thorough [and] it’s about time that the planning goes through,” he said.
Extensive delays have been a key issue with this project. It is eight years since there was a community facility for people to pay to play sports in Kingston, with many clubs in the surrounding area being solely membership based and inaccessible to the general public.
Since the Kingfisher Leisure Centre was demolished in 2021, it has also left a large empty construction site in the middle of the town centre that will remain this way until planning permission has been agreed for the new centre.
However, there is hope that the drawn-out process will be worth the wait.
“The council thinks this is giving residents everything they’re asking for,” Jones said.
“We’ve kept it over 2 floors, fully accessible, so totally step free access throughout the whole of the building.”
After the committee meeting in March and the appointment of a construction partner, there will be a further process of public engagement in May, before the submission of a planning application in Autumn 2024.
Providing the prior stages are completed, construction on the site, which will be located next to Fairfield Park, is estimated to start in spring 2025 and likely to take two years.