Ed Davey's Column: Making Kingston the best place to swim

By Ellie Brown - Local Democracy Reporter

16th Jan 2022 | Local News

As a father of two, I know how important swimming is. Whether it's for family fun and a splash or the need for children to learn how to swim for their own safety, swimming is fantastic - and for my disabled son, it's easily the best exercise he can enjoy.

So when Kingston's Kingfisher Leisure Centre was forced to close back in 2019, as the roof was in danger of falling in, it was hugely frustrating.

Initial analysis of the building's structural problems suggested the swimming pool complex could be repaired at a relatively small cost, and the enforced closure might only last to late 2022 or 2023. Yet disappointingly, more detailed surveys showed that the building's decay was more severe, and essential repairs would cost at least £5 million and take longer.

That's when Kingston Council took a difficult but, I think, wise decision. With the Kingfisher already a very dated leisure facility, councillors took the plunge - and opted to replace it entirely - for three key reasons.

First, a new leisure centre will be much better value for money.

Spending over £5 million on essential repairs on an out-of-date facility doesn't make any sense. Sure, the higher cost of a rebuild will require the Council to take out the equivalent of a mortgage and pay that debt off over many years.

But with long term interest rates for such public sector investments set to remain very low, and with RBK needing to sell some of its valuable land just to meet central Government-imposed housing targets, this is exactly the right time for such sensible long term capital investment.

Moreover, with Kingston Council's revenue budget remaining very tight, capital spending like this makes sense.

Second, Kingston deserves much better leisure facilities - especially for swimming. The old Kingfisher left a lot to be desired, whilst the new plans have excited many, many people - not least the thousands of residents who are actively contributing to the plans - over 4,000 at the last count, before the third round of consultation.

The plans include a 25 metre swimming pool, a 'splash-zone' for families, a teaching pool, a sports hall usable for everything from badminton to basketball, a climbing wall, a soft play area, a modern gym and squash courts – and the amazing engagement from local people has without doubt improved the ideas.

Third, we need our public buildings to be far more accessible and sustainable, not least so they can be used by everyone, but also so we can plan for our children's net zero future.

Let me declare my vested interests: improving the accessibility of our main swimming pool is important for my own family, as well as thousands of local residents, and I'm very focused on climate change, having led the UK's national and international work on climate for over three years.

But with the old Kingfisher being one of the worst pools for disabled facilities I have ever used (the disabled changing rooms were always filthy, if you were lucky enough to find them!) it's high time Kingston offered everyone with mobility challenges, young and old, a far better deal.

And in terms of sustainability, the new building will be light years ahead. From high insulation standards to solar panels, from low carbon heating to smart energy systems, the aim is to build a leisure facility ready for our net zero future.

So there are many reasons to get behind these exciting plans. But they get my vote for one reason above all. I want to make Kingston the best place to swim.

Read more from Ed Davey here


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