17 March 2007

The future of our Pools

So, after a long wait we finally know the result of the structural survey into Forest Hill Pools and what Lewisham Council intends to do now. The Mayor, Steve Bullock, has decided to refurbish the facilities rather than opt for a rebuild. The intrusive survey carried out on the building last year concluded that this is feasible but warns that the investment needed will be “significant.”

The Background
Forest Hill Pools (built in 1884) are amongst the oldest but certainly not the most spectacular of the Victorian era public baths. Many of the original features have been lost over the years. As a result, in May 2006 English Heritage turned down an application to have the building listed.

The long-term future of the pools has hung in the balance for some time. They’ve been run on a management-only (that is, no investment) contract since 2001 pending a decision on their future. Not surprisingly, the condition of the pools deteriorated.

A public consultation was held in October 2005 to determine whether local people wanted to refurbish the pools or knock them down and start afresh with a new build. The two options were limited but most people who replied chose the rebuild. However, the strength of feeling at public meetings and focus groups – which strongly supported refurbishment, retaining two pools – persuaded the Mayor to chose this option pending the outcome of the intrusive survey.

The pools have been closed since March 2006 when the roof was deemed unsafe.

The Timetable
April 07 to Oct 07 - design, consult, plan
Feb 08 to Jan 09 - construction
Jan 09 to Feb 09 - commissioning
Feb/March 09 - THE POOLS REOPEN!

The Cost
According to the consultants, Capita Symonds, it will cost £5.05 million to repair the pools complex. If you include inflation to 2008, the cost is nearer £5.6 million.

Is this the end of the matter?
Probably. But many people will be unhappy that other options for the pools have been lost for the time being. For example, the building could have been redesigned with a larger, more modern fitness suite if it went down to just one pool, rather than retaining both. Or perhaps the disused public building next to the pools (Louise House) could have been incorporated into the plans to create a much bigger community centre for Forest Hill, offering not only swimming and sport but a community hall and meeting rooms (sadly lacking in Forest Hill). The Mayor says financial concerns prevented other solutions being put forward and there are certainly some advantages to having two swimming pools rather than one. So perhaps we should just be glad that swimming is set to return to Forest Hill – perhaps in time to produce an SE23 champion for the 2012 Olympics!!

The Forest Hill Society will be keeping a close watch on how things progress but do let us know your thoughts. And if you have a question for the Mayor on this issue, then make sure you come along to our General Meeting on May 10th when you can ask him directly.

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