Best Kept Private

And so the privatisation of leisure in Lambeth is complete. This was confirmed at the meeting of the Clap’ham Users Forum on Monday, when upon leaving, a very enterprising chap from Fitness First leafleted Lambeth users, enticing them with the slogan of: “Fitness First is OPEN.”


You can pay your £50 per month to Fitness First and guarantee leisure facilities, or wait for Labour led Lambeth Council to try and resolve the privatisation back door leisure policy that has led to all three centres in the Rotten Borough being closed next month.

The quarterly meeting of Clap’ham users with Greenwich Leisure Limited management and Lambeth Council officials, commenced with the confirmation that Clap’ham will be closing on 15th January.

The decision to padlock up the SW4 pool wasn’t taken by Lambeth Council; it wasn’t even taken by GLL. Private capital group Cathedral gave the Council just two weeks notice to clear the site.

It’s a classic political case of you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. In return for building a reduced sized pool, Cathedral gets to build private property to sell on for profit. It also gets to control the time scale leading to the closure at Clap’ham.

The unfortunately named Future Clap’ham is already running two years behind schedule. Cathedral stalled on the project, leading locals to dub the failed project Past Clap’ham. If you accept that a new pool is needed (which is not a consensus amongst users,) then you also accept the two-year timetable of closure.

What you can’t accept however is how a local authority has lost complete control of the management of its own leisure facilities. Pimping out pools is a policy we expect from the Tories. For a Labour led Council to be cashing in on leisure, you can draw your own conclusions about the priorities of Labour in Lambeth.

The Invisible Hand of the free market hasn’t been kind to Lambeth Council. It’s not exactly been welcoming to the users either, delivering a punch in the face as the padlocks go up around the leisure centres in Lambeth.

Lambeth Council should have managed the closure of Clap’ham. With Streatham already closed (“waiting on further investment…“) and Brixton undergoing further refurbishment less than three years since £3m was ‘invested,’ Clap’ham should have remained open until a long term strategy at the other two centres was established.

Instead we have the mad scramble of Cathedral pulling down the shutters at Clap’ham, and Lambeth Council looking incredibly stupid in the run up to 2012. Who is actually in control of running leisure in the Rotten Borough? The elected council or big business? It’s certainly not the users.

After the headline news of the closure at the forum, angry users looked around the room to try and find some answers and accountability. Lambeth Council sent along a poor payroll leisure flunkey, who although seemed genuinely concerned, was not an electable official who is responsible for the mismanagement of leisure.

Yer poor man took a right kicking, and looked around the room as well for support from any local councillors. Despite fighting (and winning) the last local election on the platform of Keep Clap’ham Swimming (ha!) not one local Labour councillor felt the need to turn up and explain the political decisions taken that have led to the closure of Clap’ham.

It’ not just about the users either. Although not wanting to go into exact details, GLL management confirmed that a series of “staff consultations” were currently in place. This is boardroom talk for redundancies.

Further questions were asked about the guarantee of the new Clap’ham pool actually opening. Given the shoddy (and delayed) re-opening of the Rec since the last refurbishment, Labour has a track record of failing to complete leisure projects on time.

No guarantees were given, but then you wouldn’t expect any firm guarantees from civil servants on the Council payroll, in the absence of any accountable local politicians.

With little else to say about the failure at Clap’ham, attention turned to Streatham and Brixton. A report has been sent to the Council concerning the feasibility of further investment at Streatham. It wasn’t clear if that further investment was money put in from the Council, or Labour’s usual backdoor trick of waiting for the private sector to foot the bill.

Brixton remains our only hope – ha! No plans or predictions have been made as to the probable increase in users whilst Clap’ham and Streatham remain shut. Given that you can only swim at Brixton between the hours of 7am – 9am, this seems incredibly short sighted, not to mention rather congested.

The winner out of this complete failure to invest in leisure within the Rotten Borough is the private sector. Yer man from Fitness First dishing out the flyers wasn’t short on interested users. Labour led Lambeth Council has achieved its desired aim of letting leisure go the way of the private sector.

What’s up for grabs next?


2 thoughts on “Best Kept Private

  1. Good article – I had to laugh in parts – otherwise I might have cried. It’s all utterly shameful and depressing.


  2. Oh God. This just depresses me. Losing the pool in Streatham has been horrendous. I don’t have much faith in Lambeth Council’s ability to defend the ice rink from evil Tesco.

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