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Forest Hill Pools face uncertain future

Too many pools…
In 1994 BP gave the private sports club that it no longer required to Lewisham Council. This is now known as the Bridge Leisure Centre. In 1996, using the argument that they had too many swimming pools, Lewisham took the decision to close Forest Hill Pools.

3 Month Campaign
News reached local residents who turned up to the Leisure Services Committee meeting where the decision was taken. The three-month campaign to Save Forest Hill Pools, supported by Sydenham Society, started immediately. There were many arguments as to why Forest Hill Pools should remain open and the communities of Forest Hill and Sydenham came together to defend their heritage.

Councillors shouted down
There was a groundswell of local protest culminating in a public meeting chaired by then local councillor Steve Bullock at which the councillors and officers were shouted down – a peaceful if highly vociferous protest at which the police were present in case of violent disorder!

Downham Pool collapses
By June 1996 the council had overturned its decision – probably assisted by the collapse of the roof at Downham Pool!

Another public consultation
In May this year there were no 120th birthday celebrations for the oldest pools in London. Lewisham was once again talking about a consultation on their future. A public meeting on 5 October at Sydenham School, chaired by the same Steve Bullock, this time as Mayor, was the start of this consultation. About 150 residents turned up to the meeting, most of them pool users. 2 options were outlined:

  • Refurbishment (leading to a possible extension of 10 years of the life of the existing pools)
  • Demolition and a new building with only one pool (with a 60 year life expectancy).

Mike Peart of Capita, the group who will build the new pools, pointed out that there was a crack in the fabric of one of the pools, which may or may not be serious and that, of course, a building of this age could fail at any time.

Financial constraints
There was a council imposed financial constraint of £4.7m for the new building with, strangely, only £4.1m for refurbishment. Local residents were told the reason for the financial constraint was because Lewisham is building a new pool at Wavelengths at Deptford, and the pool at Downham is nearing completion. Another pool in Lewisham Town Centre is also to be built.

Unanimous call for 2 pools
A well mannered meeting left the Mayor, local councillors and officers with a unanimous understanding that 2 pools are required – a new 25m, 6 lane replacement pool is not flexible enough to maintain the current usage. There are acknowledged problems with the current building, but it is loved locally and a refurbishment would appear to be the only option acceptable. As someone said, lose one pool and you have lost it for good. Certainly retaining and refurbishing the present building and giving it 10+ years of life buys time – there may be additional cash for further improvement a year or so down the line.

14 months closure at least
Whichever option chosen it will necessitate the pools being closed for at least 14 months.

The Sydenham Society’s position
Refurbish the best option
The Sydenham Society supports the option to refurbish. It was quite obvious at the public meeting that local residents want to retain two pools. The loss of a much loved landmark building that has served the community so well for 120 years must be fought.

Listed Library could be under threat
The Society is also concerned about the future of Louise House, the Victorian building between the Pools and Library, should the Pools be demolished. The Library is listed Grade 2 but neither of the other buildings have any protection.

Loaded leaflet
The leaflet being delivered through 45,000 doors is quite clearly loaded in favour of the option to demolish the existing building and rebuild a leisure centre with one pool, and its wording should be questioned. It is not difficult to see that Lewisham Council clearly wants a rebuilt pool and would more than likely take the opportunity to redevelop the whole site. The council needs to explain its position on this matter.

Lewisham has a poor reputation for its handling of Leisure Centres. The Downham Pool is due to open at the end of next year, well behind schedule and over budget. Ladywell Pool had a s1.8m refit some two years ago and within 6 months the council announced its closure in 2007 so that the site could be used for a new school. There is currently a big protest going on by Ladywell Pool users as the new pool for Lewisham Town Centre planned as a replacement is not due to open until 2010 (if then).


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