Little has been heard since from the Council since the listing of Lousie House, and stakeholders are not to be involved officially until sometime next year. However, we believe the council’s ring-fenced £7.5m could attract interest from architectural practices that would be happy to work in partnership with Lewisham to provide swimming and leisure facilities that we can all be proud to use in Forest Hill.
Last February, following a prolonged and intrusive survey, Lewisham Council reported that Forest Hill Pools could not be refurbished at reasonable cost and with a guaranteed reasonable shelf-life and it was announced that a new facility with a pool and a learner pool would need to be built. The Mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, confirmed that a capital sum of £7.5m had been ring-fenced for new facilities and publicly committed to retaining swimming facilities at Forest Hill.
During the early summer the council’s chosen architects (HLM) worked up three “indicative” options all of which involved the demolition of Louise House and the Pools buildings. These included swimming pools, a leisure/fitness suite and housing of differing densities intended to cross-subsidise the level of facilities the local community demanded.
Despite requests to include an option that maintained the existing frontage of the pools the council pressed ahead with their basic designs and at the beginning of August (the school holidays) went out to public consultation. This consultation was poorly conducted and carried out in a particularly hit and miss way – some local residents living close to the pools only receiving their questionnaires on the morning of the first day (of two) of a public exhibition. Local councillors together with the Forest Hill and Sydenham Societies insisted there should be a public meeting as part of the consultation process and this took place on 21 August.
However on 19 August we learned that a request to English Heritage for the listing of Louise House by a local resident had been successful. Louise House was granted Grade ll status and the plans to demolish the building were scuppered.
The public meeting of 21 August was well attended and many asked that the council’s Leisure Services officers return to the drawing board and prepare a feasibility study which would also look at the possibility of retaining the Pool’s frontage block (the Superintendent’s House) in order to “Save the Face of Forest Hill” as demanded by an active and vocal group of campaigning residents, representing 2,000 petitioners.
At a full Mayor and Cabinet meeting in September the Mayor tasked the Leisure Services officers with providing a full feasibility study to include the option of retaining the existing façade, and to examine how facilities could be developed on site without using the space occupied by the newly listed Louise House. The officers are expected to report back to the Mayor by January. Both the Sydenham and Forest Hill Societies believe that the best (and fastest) route to the delivery of a good building is via an architectural competition and such a building will need to be in harmony with its existing neighbours (Holy Trinity School, Forest Hill Library and Louise House, all of which are Grade ll listed) and will need to have the approval of English Heritage before planning permission is given.
Members of the Sydenham Society will continue to attend the Council’s Stakeholder Group, which has met on three occasions this year, to discuss the future of the pools. The Society is keen to see an early resumption of swimming at Forest Hill and will work with the council and other stakeholders to try to ensure this happens. It will not be easy in the current financial climate, but we believe the council’s ring-fenced £7.5m should attract interest from architectural practices that would be happy to work in partnership with Lewisham to provide swimming and leisure facilities that we can all be proud to use in Forest Hill.
A footnote to the above. Strangely, while the Leisure Services Department was working on plans for the demolition of both Louise House and the Pools building, it became known that Conservation Officers in Lewisham’s Planning Department had commissioned a review of the Forest Hill Town Centre Conservation Area. It is understood that this review, to be published early next year, will recommend the extension of the Conservation Area to include the Pools and Louise House buildings. One may wonder, and only Lewisham Council can explain, why it is that one council department is intent on the demolition of the same two buildings that another Council department is considering including within an extended Conservation Area?