Thursday, 26 August 2010

Swimming pool at Elephant and Castle, or How Co-operative is the Co-operative Council?

Thanks to an article on London-SE1, we've learned that Southwark Council are consulting residents on whether they desire a swimming pool in the re-developed Fusion centre in Elephant and Castle.  A swimming pool would be of considerable benefit to the residents of SE11, and the north of the Borough of Lambeth.  Anybody in Princes, Oval, Bishops, Vassall or Stockwell ward would certainly benefit from this facility, as the nearest available public pool is currently located in Brixton.  Lambeth Council have proposed a pool in Waterloo underneath the Coin Street tower, but many North Lambeth residents actually live closer to Elephant than they do to Waterloo.  Swimming has provable health benefits for the elderly and the young, residents for whom even short trips can prove particularly difficult, so I suggest that Lambeth residents with any interest in the matter fill out the consultation questionnaire here.  (Be aware that the number "5" on the questionnaire means "most important").

"What a good idea!  I'd really like a local swimming pool", you might think to yourself.  What you might not know is that one exists at present; it's in the Elephant & Castle Fusion Leisure centre.  Unfortunately, it has fallen into disrepair and needs to be replaced.  So Southwark Council are consulting on whether or not to replace a facility that they should be providing at present.  The reason given for this pointless consultation is that Southwark council officers are concerned that they might be unable to meet their leisure commitments on the basis of the financial squeeze.  However, due to the fact that most of SE11 is in Lambeth, many local residents will not be included in the consultation.  Obviously, residents living in Kennington, Oval or Vauxhall would be much closer to the propsed pool than Southwark residents in Peckham or East Dulwich.  So, I'm proposing that the news of the potential pool be circulated as widely as possible to Lambeth residents so that we have a chance to comment on the consultation.

On the basis that we're all good friends really (since Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham Councils are all Labour controlled) and we're meant to be thinking of ways to be co-operative and share services, I thought it might be worth suggesting to Cllr Mark Harrison (Princes Ward) that he could campaign on behalf of Princes residents to enable the pool in the complex to be replaced.  After all, according to London-SE1,
[Southwark] "Council leader Peter John said last month: 'We do want to see a swimming pool at the site and we're determined to deliver'".
So, it should be a done deal, a fait accompli....  But unfortunately, despite our very poor local leisure coverage in the area (kindly mapped for us by Jason Cobb), Cllr Harrison considers the matter would be better taken up by individual residents.  After all, maybe many local residents wouldn't consider a pool a priority.  Bah.  Unlikely.  Here are the Tweets in question:

And this is Cllr Harrison's response:

So, let's demonstrate to Southwark / Lambeth Labour group that local residents would seek to prioritize a local swimming pool, and put pressure on them to provide this type of essential service, despite cuts. Let's demonstrate that there is a clear majority view in favour of such a service. 

Why not write to Cllr Mark Harrison outlining your views (if you're a Princes Ward constituent) at to ask him to put pressure on the Labour coalition of councils?  Here's the link again to fill out the Southwark Council questionnaire (it's very short).  After all, shouldn't the Co-operative Council actually, y'know, co-operate?


Will said...

Thanks for highlighting this. I have completed the survey.

I will say though that I think it is rather poor form that there were only three options in reply to the question of whether you currently use the centre:
- Yes and keep me informed
- No and but keep me informed
- No and dont keep me informed.

Where is the option for "Yes I do use the centre but please dont send me any more junk mail"?

It is the option I would have picked and nearly put me off completing the survey. Might it put others off?

Mark Harrison said...

I was just about to put a post on our local website highlighting the consultation to residents of Prince's ward.

What I'm not prepared to do is to tell Southwark Council that large numbers of people in Prince's ward would make use of the pool and it the highest priority Prince's ward residents have for the leisure centre at Elephant & Castle. That's for the consultation to establish.

We'd all agree that having a pool would be nice, the issue is, would enough people use it and would it worth Southwark Council spending a large amount of money on.

If you would use a pool, then please do go ahead and fill out Southwark's consultation, as that's what it's there to find out.

James said...

In the last day or two a consultation exhibition/meeting has also been announced for 14 September:

SE11 Lurker said...


Great. I think it would be good to publicise this as widely as possible.

The problem though, with the consultation, is that Southwark Council are /currently/ meant to be providing a swimming pool at Elephant. Taken from that perspective, there's really no point in the consultation at all, since what Southwark are trying to do through it is to get out of providing residents with a pool. That's unacceptable as far as I'm concerned.

Princes Ward (and other) local residents do not need to fill in a badly written questionnaire to indicate that their highest leisure priority for the area would be a pool. I really don't think a consultation is needed to establish that. Residents already have access to a cheap gym (Vauxhall, and also Elephant), Kennington and Vauxhall Park both have ball courts. What's missing is a pool, and to pretend that priorities might lie elsewhere is silly.

A pool would be more than "nice" since a pool is supposed to be provided at present. The question of whether enough people would use it is also silly. The Elephant is about (ha!) to be regenerated with thousands of new people arriving, it's a major transport hub (bus, train and tube) and a very busy area. I really don't think the question of usage is worth asking.

I've filled out the questionnaire and I will recommend others do likewise, but I'd really like to see Lambeth Councillors of all the wards that I named be pro-active and provide a group representation on behalf of North Lambeth residents and their leisure needs.

Anonymous said...

"Southwark Council are /currently/ meant to be providing a swimming pool at Elephant"

WHY? obviously there is not an inexhaustible pool of money and every spending decision has an opportunity cost. Now you may argue that southwark should prioritise a pool over, say, social housing improvements (and I may well agree with you) but let's not pretend that you cannot make a good argument the other way.

also, I would like to know what weight southwark council will give to consultation responses from lambeth given that the cost won't be funded by any council tax increase in lambeth

SE11 Lurker said...

The initial answer is simple. Southwark should be providing a public pool because they committed to do so when the Fusion centre was built on the site on which it stands. The pool ceased to be used when it fell into disrepair, and this represents a failure in the Council's duty to provide adequate leisure facilities. Unless Southwark was suddenly depopulated for some reason (not something I believe has taken place), I can see no reason to cease providing the service. Replacing the pool is merely replacing a service that should never have ceased.

I would argue that Southwark Council should prioritise a pool/leisure centre over social housing in this instance. I would not want to follow a Kantian rule about this type of decision, and my argument in favour of the pool is based purely on the hours I spend "lurking", and the residents that I speak to. There are some areas of the country in which the state of local housing would warrant the spend on that, but I'm not sure that Southwark is one of them.

At present, the new housing erected in Southwark is being built by private developers (who typically put some percentage of their building towards social use), but these developers are not keen to provide swimming facilities and this is something that consequently falls upon the council.

Even if it could be conceded that the money would be better spent on housing, I'd be concerned that money put into the housing pot (at least if the housing department is anything like Lambeth) would be unwisely spent and would benefit only a small number of residents. (Please note that my arguments are not solely utilitarian).

In this instance, I'd argue that a pool would benefit the young and the elderly and that it's a public health facility that warrants a large spend. A pool would generally be a shared good and would provide a location in which diverse social groups can mix, which I'd argue is vital for a cohesive society and reduces crime. This is very important at a time when unemployment and crime will likely rise. (In my view, facilities which allow social mixing and promote neighbourliness are few and far between. Their existence is even more vital at times when the gap between rich and poor is as extreme as ours at present).

In the coming weeks, I will be making a strong argument for the provision of youth services, playgrounds and leisure facilities, since such items seem to be cut when public spending is hit. Personally, I think this is an error for the reasons outlined above.

Arguments about common goods eg. education v. health, and young v. old are very difficult to "win", but they do need to take place. So, yes, I could easily argue that social housing should receive the capital when the public purse is hit, but I feel that councils will always spend on public housing, whereas leisure provision (and education) have to be fought for. In any case, do feel free to put the opposite view. I believe arguments over common civic goods are very important for the health of all societies, but I do not seek to produce a universalisable argument about why spending on leisure should always be prioritised over housing (and neither would I want to).

SE11 Lurker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Harrison said...

I'm going to restate what I said at the beginning - the key issue is - would enough people make use of a pool if it was built? It's a lot of money for Southwark to spend and the consultation is to establish what level of demand there would be for a pool. I'm not prepared to argue that there is massive demand from Prince's residents for a pool, because I don't know that there is. Nobody has ever raised the subject of swimming pools with me on the doorstep. From memory, the only person who has ever raised the issue of swimming pools with me is Jason Cobb.

You say that we already have access to affordable gyms - well the Gym at Vauxhall is already full with a waiting list - so clearly there is unmet demand there. Perhaps an affordable gym might be a better use? That's for the consultation to establish.

Anonymous is correct that Southwark councillors probably won't give as much weight to views from Lambeth councillors and residents, as we won't be paying for the facility.

Finally, whilst Jason Cobb has been absolutely correct that current arrangements for swimming in Lambeth aren't good enough, you have to take a long-term view when planning for the future. In five years time it's very likely we will have new pools at Clapham and Waterloo, as well the refurbished Brixton Rec (and a new pool at Streatham). At that point I think Kennington residents will be pretty well-served, and that's the point we're working towards.

Jason Cobb said...

The question about would enough people make use of a pool if it was built is a non-starter: of course they would. It is a classic build it and they will come scenario. No swimming pool closes because of a lack of business. If anything it is the opposite, with demand out stripping supply. Witness the lane rage at Brixton Rec each day.

This is where the free market steps in, offering an alternative for those that able to pay. Horizons in Stockwell fills this gap, but the pool is a poxy size, and the monthly costs prohibitive to most around here.

Princes, Oval, and parts of Stockwell are badly served for leisure provision. The Lego Pool at Lillian Baylis was nothing but pre-election PR to try and paper over the farce of leisure in Lambeth. Brixton may seem local, but it can be a hell of trek if you rely upon public transport. It therefore makes sense for locals to look over the borough border, to see what provision is offered elsewhere.

The point that Lurker is making, and one which I fully support, is that if Lambeth Councillors want to make a big fanfare about how this new era of austerity has led to co-operation between boroughs, then it would be decent if you actually acted upon it.

I can't see the difference between deciding to share back office staff, and also working co-operatively to provide leisure provision. Or maybe it is because the Lambeth Labour free market view of allowing Tesco and the Cathedral Group to run rings around leisure here, isn't shared by the more moderate Labour group over in Southwark?

The Waterloo pool is far from a done deal, and once again it relies upon private capital to see it through. It is not possible to predict the state of the macro and micro economy, five years from now. Councillor Nosegbe actually admitted at Chuka Umunna's QT that Clapham has once again "hit financial difficulties." Streatham Hub is an unknown law to itself (and probably to Tesco.)

So yeah - here you have the chance to actively lobby for leisure provision in a patch that is less than a mile away from the ward, compared to waiting for the free market to try and deliver here locally.

Anonymous said...

I support Mark's central argument. And while entertaining, Jason is a) almost single issue obsessed with a pool and b) a quite upfront socialists who believes Government should provide everything, regardless of whether it makes economic sense (and I fear Lurker often bows to his arguments on leisure issues). A pool is not my top priority. My gym has several locations, many with pools, and I don't use them now. I would say the same applies to everyone I know personally in Kennington, which isn't a huge number in the grand scheme of things, but a pretty good sample. Lurker, where do you swim presently and how often?

Jason Cobb said...

@Comrade Anon - happy to entertain, but please don't associate me with those centre ground sell-out socialists.

Single issue? Comrades Edbrooke and Hopkins would hopefully contest this accusation.

Which gym do you belong to locally that has several pools? One that is provided by public provision? If not, how much are you fleeced for each month?

Although the privatisation of leisure in Lambeth via GLL and Fusion is a mockery of local authority management, I'd wager my £26 per month is slightly south of your amount.

Love yer Dave style "I once met a man in Kennnington..." line, btw.

Yours in Speedos, etc (standard government issue)


SE11 Lurker said...

@Anonymous Can you advise whether you're a Labour party member? I'm not and I'm not a member of any political party. I do get a bit suspicious when "Anon" members back the current administration because of the numbers of Labour-hangers-on in Lambeth. (Please don't read that as a slur; I don't intend it to be).

Mark's key argument appears to be; "would enough people use a pool?" and my key response is, "Elephant and Castle is about to received an influx of newcomers to live in high rise apartments and student accommodation. There will be more than enough residents to support such a facility."

If I have time, I might check to see if the government has a "per head" recommendation for swimming pool provision. I'm fairly sure that in London, we'd not have facilities to support the number of residents, due to size of population.

Jason is quite pool obsessed, but he's almost certainly more obsessed with cricket and just as obsessed with cycling. That means he cares passionately about ensuring that leisure provision for locals is up to scratch. I think the notion that he's "single issue" obsessed re pools is plain wrong. This is apparent if you read his blog.

Jason may well be a socialist (I've never asked), but I'm not. I think that a leisure centre with pool, priced reasonably would basically recoup its costs. I bow to some of Jason's arguments on leisure simply because the Lambeth leisure provision is so poor. We're essentially both whinging that certain leisure facilities are nearly non-existent in Lambeth. I want to swim close to home /now/, not have to wait for a pool at Waterloo or Streatham. Lambeth recognise that their swimming provision is poor on account of their installation of a 12 metre pool at the former Lilian Baylis last summer.

I've raised the issue of a swimming pool at several local SE11 residents meetings (residents are mostly of different ages/backgrounds to me) and all of them support a pool. So "my friends" vs "your friends" is no proof of anything. I'm watching quite closely to see how many clicks the Southwark consultation receives from my blog and I intend to promote the consultation as widely as possible.

I'm a member of the gym at Vauxhall (£15 per month). It has no pool. I've an option to belong to a pool with a gym near where I work, but at £45 per month, it's quite beyond my budget. I don't swim at present because there are no pools near to where I live. Brixton pool has just, admittedly re-opened, but it's completely off the radar. I never have the need to go to Brixton. I work quite long hours, and wouldn't go trekking miles away after work to access a pool.

If there were a pool at Elephant, I'd be first in the queue and I'd go a few times a week. I'd probably swap my gym membership to Elephant as well as I feel quite "at risk" when crossing the subways / Vauxhall gyratory to access the Vauxhall gym at night when it's dark.

Jason Cobb said...

Oh - and whatever happened to the Lambeth Labour election manifesto pledge of: "free swimming for every resident?"

Anonymous said...

what happened to their keep lambeth swimming slogans in 2006?

people have short memories I'm afraid. something not lost on the labour machine

Jason Cobb said...

Ah yes - the notorious Keep Clap'ham Swimming pledge from 2006.

Anonymous said...

lurker, thanks for responding to my gentle criticism.

If you won't say that spending on social housing (or anything else) will be cut to fund the swimming pool maintenance/rennovation, then don't you need to say what you think should be cut or argue for a council tax rise in southwark ?(it's not credible to think that with the current deficit crisis, this spending can be funded from central government) Otherwise, it's a money grows on trees type of campaign that you are launching for youth/leisure services.

To be fair, I doubt the consultation document is honest about the economic realities either.

Anonymous said...

and what pricing, if any, would you advocate for the pool? enough to pay for on-going maintenance?

SE11 Lurker said...

In terms of replacing and rebuilding the leisure centre itself, I would ask for funds from all of the companies who were building flats in the vicinity. We've left it too late to ask eg. Strata, but significant Section 106 monies could be used to redesign/replace the existing facility. There's about to be a hotel built next door (whose guests could no doubt benefit from a leisure centre with pool). Bringing up to spec and installing a cafe, creche, swimming pool and gym (I'd like all of them) would make it a popular venue which I would expect to pay for itself.

In terms of charging, I suggest £4.00 for a single swim (non-concessionary) and £2.00 for concessionary swim on individual basis. Under 16s should pay £1 per swim (assuming free swimming gets over-ruled on account of not having enough money). These costs I've taken from the Oasis Centre in Camden, so I'm assuming they're realistic.

To bring down the cost for regular users, I suggest a series of gym & pool membership at about £30, and pool at £25 per month, worked out on a sliding scale basis, which could be based on council tax banding. So if you live in Council Tax E, F, G or H etc, you pay more than the lower bands. Bringing several copies of bills etc. to show where you lived and tenancy agreements or mortgage agreements make it easier to avoid scams.

If the new centre is paid for by private companies, I'd hope not to lose money from any budget, and it may be the costs need to be tweaked in order for the centre to cover its running costs. I am not suggesting it would be profitable, merely make enough to cover running costs like staff and maintenance, and additional for re-investment when it wears out. I would not out source its running to an external firm, as this seems to put the facilities in the hands of non-users. What might be better would be to run it as a council facility, run by a co-op style community trust (these are currently popular with both Tories and Labour, whatever you call them). Even if you pay the trust something for their time, I doubt it would cost as much or be as badly run as some of the Lambeth facilities currently sub-contracted out.

Anonymous said...

sounds good.

I suspect the banding system wouold be more expense and hassle than it is worth (why not just mnake an adjustment to the council tax bands themselves if necessary?)

If s.106 money could be obtained that would obviously be great news. Of course the council will need a plan B if it's not forthcoming!

Anonymous said...

Is running a swimming pool sensibly left to trustees who have no experience in the field? would those trustees then have to pay over the odds for insurance because of their lack of expertise? It's obviously more of an undertaking than for example running the booking system for facilities in Vauxhall or kennington parks.

Cllr Steve Bradley said...

In terms of the list of Lambeth wards that could potentially benefit from an Elephant and Castle pool, please don't forget the good people of Vassall !

Vassall ward's northern boundary is the Kennington Business Park - much closer to E&C than Stockwell ward, which merited a mention.

And with access to swimming in Lambeth reduced to a Da Vinci Code-esque challenge (what times on what days can people actually use Brixton Rec during school term, and what colour of trunks do they need to adorn to guarantee access...?) the good people of Vassall ward would doubtless welcome access to a pool that was closer for many of them.

Cllr Steve Bradley
Liberal Democrat Action Team - Vassall Ward.

SE11 Lurker said...

Cllr Bradley, thanks for your comment. I'd modified the article so that it now contains a mention of Vassall Ward. I agree with your view entirely.

Although, unfortunately, I've yet to hear how Lambeth residents might make a group representation to Southwark Council on the matter.

Anonymous said...

Lurker, some decent ideas, which I wouldn't oppose, though likely not go out of my way to support.

Am I part of a Labour party? No. Certainly not the local Lambeth lot who still love that ol' red flag. I did try New Labour, but they migrated back to far left. But no party affiliation, quite the swinger.

And yes Jason, I pay 45 quid a month. And I know you'd love to take that much and a lot more off me in tax to fund another Peckham Pool - a beautiful facility, overtime, way over budget and ruined by those who use it. No thanks. But don't get me wrong, we do need the hard left in opposition, giving no workable ideas but throwing rocks at the rest of us.

Crikey! (that makes it funny)

For kicks, I have now asked somewhere around 40 locals their view - from the pub, to the RVT sports day (yep Lurker, I was there). So far, no one much cares. Those who care also go to their gym. But I admit the demo is skewed. Perhaps the overwhelming search numbers and people jamming local Gov't switchboards will prove me wrong.

And as for Stockwell and Vassal, and Kennington for that matter, Camberwell is as close as E&C. Suspect you are all using it presently? Better yet, try Peckham before it is totally destroyed.

SE11 Lurker said...

@Anon (the non-Labour supporting one), it gets rather difficult when there are so many Anons around. I understand that you don't want to reveal your name, but it would help if you could scribble a pen name at the end of posts so that I know who I'm responding to. I assumed you'd responded already on account of the number of anons!

It depends where your local pub is as to how far the demo is skewed! Certainly asking at the RVT sports day skews things, since you're looking at a group who (on the whole) don't have dependents in the form of children, and consequently can more easily afford gym membership (and who are mostly mobile). However, I'm willing to concede that my asking people at community groups skews the demographic too. Community groups always want more facilities for their communities! I guess we'll see what the response is like once Southwark count their questionnaires (as if they'd tell us)! My stats reports quite large numbers who are arriving to read the pool article, with about 15% clicking through to the questionnaire. That sounds quite low, but since only 28% of readers stay for more than 5 seconds, it's a response rate I'm pleased to see.

I'd like to use the pool at Camberwell (I tend to go there more often than Brixton), but I think it's currently still closed. Why is Peckham likely to be totally destroyed?

Cheap Gym Membership said...

Well as the title and description of this post says im jsut wondering how the price varies over the country for gym memberships.

I joined the gym at a lesiure center in Abingdon ( oxford )

To pay annualy it was £300 and something
Monthly is £40 (but u have to pay a minimum of 3 months to begin with before u can pay monthly which is £120)
Or daily which is £6 something.

I paid for the monthly option but that includes the use of classes/swimming/sauna/tennis etc

Which ever area has a low cost gym membership - think i might move near to you! haha .. as a single mum money is pretty tight all the time .. .. i managed to persuade my dad (after lots of begging and pleading that i was gonna stick to it!!!) to pay just for the min 3 months (£120) Aww aint i lucky! haha ...

So come on then who lives in an area where the gym is pretty cheap?

AZ Pool Care said...

Living in Arizona we find having a swimming pool a necessity rather than a luxury because of the often hot weather. And also because of that, most locals here know the benefit of swimming pools for our health and in building close relationships with families and neighbors.

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