As our last newsletter went to press in mid-February there was news that the Mayor and Cabinet had taken the decision to demolish the existing buildings and build a new two-pool facility on the site of the Pools and Louise House complex, and that they had committed to consulting with local groups and residents with regard to the design. There was also a commitment to integrate some of the features of the existing pools building into the design.
Since that time there has been one “Stakeholder meeting” on 17 March at which members of the Sydenham Society were present, along with members of the Forest Hill Society, to hear Lewisham Council officers outline the schedule of redevelopment.
A further meeting is planned for 15 May, after this newsletter deadline.
The timetable includes demolition of the whole site in July, although it is admitted this date is likely to slip as a nursery, currently using part of the rear of Louise House, will need to be relocated first.
The concerns of a large number of people about retaining the Victorian streetscape, by possibly converting the existing brick built buildings into residential property, are not included in the Council’s plans, despite the statement in Lewisham’s Supplementary Planning Guidance for Forest Hill (March 2003) which says: “The Library and Pools complex need to be addressed in terms of celebrating these important buildings, creating a special place and providing improved amenity for the local community.”
English Heritage has also stated that: “They (the Pools) make a positive contribution to the streetscape and along with Holy Trinity School, Forest Hill Library and Louise House form a distinct group of buildings which reflect the Victorian enthusiasm for education and health reform.”
Members attending the recent Sydenham Society Annual General Meeting were shown ideas for two new pools, a refurbished Louise House and Superintendent’s House (the frontage block of the swimming pool), a public square and residential housing which would help cross-subsidise the pools/leisure facility. There was an overwhelming majority in favour of these ideas which have been put to the council for consideration.
The council say that they are committed to good design for the replacement of all buildings on this important town site, a focal point for Forest Hill, and have earmarked Â£7.5m for the redevelopment of two pools (a 25m 6-lane pool, and a learner pool), together with a fitness suite. A cross-subsidy of Â£2m from sale of development land does leave a question in many minds about how much Â£9.5m can buy in terms of quality design.
The council say that housing on this site could be of high, medium or low density, but as yet there is no indication of what this means in terms of numbers of residential properties, nor of the type of housing, ie high or low rise, also one, two or three bedroom units.
The services are currently being decommissioned and the pools are being drained. Design and feasibility work is underway and a historical survey with a view to retaining some of the original features (the keystone and the griffins) and incorporating these into the new building is also underway. A local public consultation is planned for June at Forest Hill Library. However, there will be no designs available before the planned demolition takes place, which leaves many local residents concerned about what might eventually be planned. A design competition before the pools are demolished has been ruled out as the project is deemed to be too small to justify such a venture.
The Sydenham Society will continue to campaign for the retention of the Victorian buildings which we believe are an important part of the Forest Hill streetscape and which, converted and refurbished will, we believe, provide a sustainable use for these sound structures which have played such an important part in the social history of the area for over 120 years.