London council to revise leisure centre plans after cost doubles

A London council has said it remains “committed” to building a major new leisure centre, but is revising its plans after the estimated construction cost doubled to nearly £80m. 

Kingston Council said the new town centre facility will still go ahead but that it cannot commit to a timeframe, as it takes stock of plans in light of construction-cost inflation. 

The council branded the increase in project price to £79.5m, on the basis of received tenders, as “extraordinary”. It said it could not accept this “scale of cost”, but acknowledged that it would affect the timescale for the completion of the project. 

“Uplifts in the costs of construction, labour and energy, together with the impact of stretched supply chains across the country, mean that the council is now taking the responsible step of revising plans for the centre,” it said in a statement on its website. 

The local authority had originally agreed a budget of £39.6m for the swimming and leisure centre. The cost had increased to £53m in October following a pre-tender estimate. 

The project has already proved controversial after the previous facility on the site – Kingfisher Leisure Centre – was closed in 2019 due to structural roof problems, then demolished last year. Nearly 4,000 people signed a petition calling on Kingston Council not to bulldoze the centre without a legally binding commitment to replace it. 

Planning permission to build a new facility was granted last May. 

The plans include five-a-side rooftop football pitches, two swimming pools, a children’s splash deck, climbing wall, community spaces and a cafe. 

Andreas Kirsch, leader of Kingston Council, said: “We are 100 per cent committed to providing a high-quality, accessible and sustainable swimming and leisure centre on the existing site in Kingston. 

“But we must be responsible and prudent, and balance our ambition with reality.

“Put simply, this is the right thing to do. It would not be financially responsible to press ahead regardless [of cost]. The difficult financial conditions are the cumulative result of several years of unprecedented national and international events – of which we are all keenly aware – which are impacting every part of the economy.”

Kirsch said the increasing costs were “not within the council’s control”. 

He added: “Our experienced team is working on options and will move at pace to define clear next steps. It is not appropriate to be rushed into making promises or committing to timescales without being clear on the next steps. As soon as we are able to give more detail, we will do so.”

Consultancy Stace is providing project, cost, construction, design and management services for the project, according to its website, while architect FaulknerBrowns is working on designs.

Nationwide, concern has been rising about the long-term financial health of council-owned swimming pools and leisure centres since they lost out on significant revenue during lockdowns and have been hit by the energy crisis.

In January, a group of eight organisations urged the government to include swimming pools in its energy discount scheme or risk nationwide closures.

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