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14 September 2008

Back to Square One

On the 20th August 2008, it was announced that Louise House, part of the Forest Hill Pools site, had been listed Grade II by English Heritage following a request for listing from an individual living in the local area. This means that the recent feasibility options for the new pools will need to be rethought and the process begun again. This was completely fresh news at the Public Meeting held at The Methodist Church , Normanton Street, on the 21st August and attended by over 200 Forest Hill residents.

Louise House has been listed mainly because of its historical importance (as a Victorian Girls Industrial Home that took in girls suffering extreme poverty and trained them for work in Domestic Service) and the unaltered condition of the building. A number of these buildings were built in London but this is a rare surviving example. The listing also notes the importance of the building as a 'group' with the Library and the Pools Building, even though the Pools building itself has previously been considered and turned down for listing.

The problem (or opportunity) this causes is that Louise House was included as part of the site for the New Pools/leisure complex recently consulted on by Lewisham Council. It means that the options that were on the table are no longer achievable in their current form and additional work will be needed to find out what it is possible to deliver on the site.

When the Mayor announced in March that he was abandoning the original plan to refurbish the pools (intrusive surveys and discussions with potential developers persuaded him this was not feasible), he set a short timescale for delivering the pools (to be open by 2011) and this led to the 'rushed' production of feasibility options for the site and a public consultation during August, when unfortunately many people are away on holiday.

The options presented to residents were 3 versions of the same scheme, with more or less housing, leisure uses and open space on the site. The preliminary results from the consultation were presented to a stakeholder meeting on the 27th August. The Council received around 600 replies to the consultation and views were fairly evenly split between the 3 options with about 10% of respondents choosing not to select any of the options. The FHS submitted a response (the highlights of which are included in this Newsletter) raising a number of concerns about the proposals but mostly supporting the need for a new pool facility in Forest Hill in the foreseeable future and seeking to ensure a high quality building is developed – possibly secured through a design competition.

The public meeting on the 21st August was very lively and heard a wide range of views. It clearly demonstrated that the area does seem to be split on whether to try to keep parts of the existing Pools Building in the scheme or not. The main area of consensus seemed to be that we do want a new pool, that the consultation process had not been very good and that the 3 versions of the scheme proposed left a lot to be desired. The Listing of Louise House has helpfully given the Council a get-out from its previous 'options' and it was acknowledged that there is the opportunity for a significant rethink.

Meanwhile, the Stakeholder Group continues to meet.

It includes representatives from both the Forest Hill and Sydenham Societies, residents groups, swimming organisations and local schools. To clarify, the stakeholder group does not in any way set the agenda.

Rather it is a forum for the council to present its plans and the group to make comments and seek information. However, it does mean that the Forest Hill Society gets the chance to have an input into the process as things move forward.

The Forest Hill Society members of the Stakeholder group are Hilary Satchwell and Penelope Jarrett. Both are keen swimmers as well as enthusiastic residents of Forest Hill and Hilary has particular experience of architecture and planning issues.

One of the key issues now will be testing whether it is still possible to achieve the range of leisure/residential options on the site and what the new use should be for Louise House. If any members of the Society have any positive ideas for new uses for Louise House that may be able to attract funding and allow a small element of public access, we would be pleased to hear from you so we can feed these ideas into the process.

The next step will be a meeting of Mayor and Cabinet on the 17th September 2008 when the Mayor will make recommendations for how the project should continue.

If you have any particular comments on what you think should happen at the Pools please let Hilary or Penelope know (hilary@foresthillsociety.com or Penelope@foresthillsociety.com).

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