The demolition of the Kingfisher is set to go ahead after a council meeting last week voted against an amendment to put this on pause.
The amendment, put forward by Councillor Sharron Falchikov-Sumner of the Green Party at last Tuesday’s meeting, proposed that the demolition of Kingston’s Kingfisher Leisure Centre should not take place until a planning application has been approved for a new centre.
Sumner also called on the council to agree with a petition presented earlier in the meeting which urged Kingston Council not to demolish the leisure centre without a “guaranteed and legally-binding commitment to replace the existing facilities.”
Sumner said: “I’ve moved this amendment to give councillors on the other side an opportunity to rethink and an opportunity to genuinely listen to residents by not demolishing the Kingfisher until the planning application has been determined.”
However, the amendment was defeated with 26 votes against, 10 votes for and one abstention.
Liberal Democrat Councillor Stephanie Archer spoke passionately about the need to prevent any further delays.
She said: “Now is the time to be decisive. Now is the time to take this ambitious step for the sake of local people.”
Independent Councillor John Tolley, 44, who is the councillor for the area in which the Kingfisher lies, seconded the amendment and spoke of the unrealistic timescales and the huge costs of the proposed new leisure centre.
Tolley said: “A huge problem for me is the unrealistic time scales. This administration has been offering what is demonstrably not possible.
“The project has already slipped a year and I think it will slip further.”
Caroline Shah, a vocal opponent to the demolition of the Kingfisher, presented to the council her petition which had 1,601 verified eligible signatures, meeting the threshold for debate.
The council noted the petition, but Shah expressed annoyance that noting a petition had no real impact.
She said: “They’ve completely taken the value out of anybody doing a petition.
“They’re basically removing any democratic involvement in decision making in Kingston.”
However, Liberal Democrat Councillor John Sweeney, 53, argued that the council would have been unable to grant the petition which called for the council to give a legal guarantee that another leisure centre would replace the existing one.
He said that councils are not able to give guarantees to petitioners because they could not be legally held to account on these.
Shah also questioned where the proposed £40 million set aside for a new leisure centre was going to come from.
She said: “The council’s overambitious growth plans could lead to further cuts in essential services and higher council tax even than we pay now.
“I’m extremely concerned that the services the council is meant to be providing, particularly for vulnerable people, are going to be under considerable threat if they start engaging in huge activities to develop the borough.”
Sweeney said that the new leisure centre would not lead to cuts to services since it would be funded through capital expenditure, which is a separate pot of money.
The development will instead be funded through things like long-term borrowing and selling off assets.
Sweeney added that by setting aside £40 million in their capital expenditure budget and appointing architects to prepare things like planning permission, the council has taken steps to show they are going to replace the leisure centre even if they are not able to give a legal guarantee.
Tolley questioned where the £40 million figure came from and suggested that £25 million would be sufficient for this new leisure centre which would allow the capital expenditure to be spent on other things like reopening youth clubs.
A number of councillors left part-way through the four hour council meeting before the vote on Sumner’s amendment, which Shah described as unacceptable.
She said: “I think it’s totally unacceptable that the full council wasn’t there. There’s no reason for everyone not to stay.
“It’s absolutely appalling that people we have elected to represent us and who we pay to represent us have the option to leave a council meeting.”
However, Sweeney responded: “The lateness of the hour and some of the aggressive behaviour coming from the petitioners was upsetting a number of the councillors and they left the meeting early.”
The Mayor, Councillor Sushila Abraham, repeatedly had to ask people in the gallery, who shouted “shame” with each vote against Sumner’s amendment, to stop shouting over the councillors.
Shah has now launched a fundraiser to get an opinion on the legality of the council’s decision to approve the planning application to demolish the leisure centre and she has reached £2k of her £3.1k goal.
In an update posted on the GoFundMe page on Tuesday, she said: “The resignation of Kingston Council leader, Caroline Kerr, last night must reflect in large part the huge pressure on the council not to demolish The Kingfisher Leisure Centre from the petition and this fundraiser.”
Featured image credit: Caroline Shah