Kingston’s only functioning public swimming pool at the Malden Centre reopened on Thursday, having been closed in February for essential repairs.
The news comes ahead of a meeting of the council’s Planning Committee on Wednesday to decide whether or not to approve planning permission for the demolition of the Kingfisher Leisure Centre in Kingston upon Thames, which also had a popular swimming pool.
The Malden Centre’s pool is currently the borough’s only publicly owned swimming pool, after the Kingfisher was closed in 2019 due to problems with its roof.
While the council said the temporary closure had been essential to conduct repairs, some residents campaigning to save the Kingfisher from demolition questioned the timing of the pool’s reopening.
Community activist Caroline Shah said: “It’s a PR stunt. It detracts from the fact that a perfectly good Kingfisher Leisure Centre that only needs a new roof comes up to committee for demolition [this] week.
“This is not about ceilings or roofs. This is not about the council wanting to ensure residents have the sports facilities we need. It is about sneaking through gross overdevelopment plans in front of our very eyes.”
In 2020, the council announced plans to demolish the Kingfisher and construct a new complex with more facilities on the site. It is estimated that the project will cost £40 million to complete.
James Giles, deputy leader of the Kingston Independent Residents Group, said the council had originally proposed a new swimming pool in New Malden eight years ago, but various delays had prevented this.
Giles said: “Unfortunately, we’ve been warning as a community for a long time that something needs to happen with that site [of the Malden Centre]. And the council just haven’t been forthcoming.”
In response to the temporary closure of the Malden Centre pool, Giles launched a petition which was signed by over 1,100 people.
The petition called on the council to formally commit to reopening the pool as soon as possible, not demolishing the building as long as repairs were a feasible option, and ensuring that a publicly owned pool would remain open in New Malden.
After closing the Malden Centre, the council did not announce any intentions to demolish it or commit to extensive long-term repairs. In the petition, however, Giles noted that the decision to rebuild the Kingfisher was only announced after it had been temporarily closed for repairs, and were concerned that similar actions would be taken in New Malden.
Giles said: “I am, of course, very pleased that the work is now completed and the pool has reopened, and I think that shows the strength of feeling that the council has acted so fast.”
Reactions from Kingston residents were mixed. Some said they were glad the pool was open again, while others wondered if the timing of the reopening might be linked to May elections.
Yvonne Jones said she was “just relieved it has opened again and not gone the way of the Kingfisher pool, and Andy Wood, said: “[The pool] was never at risk of closing permanently. However, people with a political agenda liked to scaremonger that it would!”
The council’s decision to demolish and rebuild the Kingfisher has been highly controversial.
According to a report by the assistant director of strategic planning and infrastructure, a consultation with the site’s neighbouring occupiers met with three responses expressing support, and 103 objections.
A spokesperson for the council said: “The pool [at the Malden Centre] needed to be closed for this short period to allow the works to be carried out in a safe manner, and to ensure that construction workers had the necessary facilities and space to undertake the works in a safe and organised way.
“This was a short, temporary closure to enable the planned essential maintenance to be undertaken now, to minimise any future disruption or interruption to the public’s use of the Malden Pool over the next 2-3 years, while other leisure facilities are being re-provided in the borough.”