No Such Thing as a Free Swim…

*Wednesday 11am update – sometimes, a half baked blog post generates a far better response in the comments kindly posted…*

Righto, so after the slight overnight hiccups when @LambethLabour rolled out a fancy new website (second one this year, natch,) our friends assembling under the red banner in the borough have now sorted out the slight glitches.

The Sport and Leisure Expansion section has some beef on the bone, after the rather vague (but probably accurate) “TBC” content.

I’ll need a tally chart soon, to keep track of all those fancy new leisure centres that are about to be built…

Lambeth Leisure Expansion

We all know about Streathamgood news, but legal planning permission, plus further Tesco dithering, may still get in the way of the whole Hub project.

Future Clap’ham is running late, but hey hoe, at least it’s running.

West Norwood and Waterloo are simply election pledges, and should be taken with the pinch of salt that they deserve.

Kennington is a whole different kettle of fish. I refer you to the ever fine @se11_lurker for the finer points on the continued delay of turning over the old Lillian Baylis site to “community control,” as the @LambethLabour manifesto claims. This delay is currently costing tax payers in Lambeth £380,000 per anum.

Meanwhile the “complete upgrade” of works to Brixton Rec is running one month behind schedule. The reason? The previous complete upgrade of works to Brixton Rec back in 2007, all £2,7m of it, was a bodge job.

And then we come to…

Free swimming for every resident at specific times, and for under-18s and over-60s at all times.


First of all, we can dismiss the electioneering of free swimming for under-18’s and over-60’s. This is already in place London wide. The issue here is of trying to find somewhere for the young and elderly to actually swim in Lambeth.

But what of “free swimming for every resident at specific times?”


That’s some election pledge. I hope we aren’t witnessing another classic Nu Labour Keep Clap’ham Swimming moment in the making.

I’ve been asking off the record around the @LambethLabour cabinet exactly how this proposal is going to work. I’ve yet to receive any firm answers. It is a mighty fine election promise, and *shhh* one that may just be a vote winner for any as yet undecided young (ish) local bloggers.

But I want some clarification first.

Note the rather convenient opt out clause of “at specific times.” That could mean anything from off-peak pool times, to ten minutes a year, and then only on Bank Holidays.

It’s no good putting such vague pledges into your manifesto, and then not bolting down what you actually mean, come ballot box time. It’s a catchy strapline, and one, which our Nu Labour friends over in the Prince’s ward have already misled the electorate over, by simply re-cycling the policy as:

Free swimming for every resident.

If I were a voter in SE11 and put a big black cross next to the @LambethLabour candidates, I would rightfully expect free swimming, in an open pool, all year round for the complete duration of the next administration.

Labour leader @cllrstevereed teased me (ooh!) with the interpretation that “free swimming for every resident” actually translates as nothing more than a taster session.

Steve Reed

But with 40,000 @LambethLabour manifestos already having gone to print (still containing allegations against @LambethLibDems and kerb crawling,) @LambethLabour now need to stand by this free swimming pledge.

Free swimming for every resident at specific times.

Now logged with @democlub.

6 thoughts on “No Such Thing as a Free Swim…

  1. A few clarifications if I may.

    Government funding for free swimming for under-18s / over-60s ends in 2 years. Not all boroughs took it up in any case, but we are pledging to fund it through the whole of the next council so there is a real commitment there.

    The free swimming for everyone else will occur, in all likelihood, outside peak hours – but it will be weekly and it will be for a reasonable period of time each week. If we can get it to be a whole day a week we will, but that depends on the finances post-election (no one knows what the Govt will do to council funding at this stage). The free periods will be funded by the increased usage at other times – we know that happens from the hugely increased usage at Brixton Rec after we refurbed it in 2007 (remember the Lib Dems had plans to sell the Rec off that we reversed). The £2.7m upgrade was NOT botched. The works on the changing room have merely uncovered some underlying issues that were not known earlier. Most of the upgrade work was on the new children’s zones – these are exceptionally popular and there are no structural problems associated with them.

    Streatham now has the best deal possible in the circumstances – all the planned facilities will be built PLUS temporary ice provision subject to public agreement through the planning consultation. No one anticipated the global banking meltdown and subsequent recession that stalled the plans last time, but we’ve got through that with a better deal than we had before it.

    West Norwood – the funding for the new pool and leisure centre has been agreed by Government in the form of PFI credits. The money is allocated to the scheme. It will go ahead subject to the usual planning process but given the massive local support the only points of contention will be the nature of the design.

    Waterloo – new pool and public gym. This is being built by a developer as part of a housing scheme. The plans have received approval from Lambeth, the GLA and the Secretary of State. The developer has confirmed they will go ahead.

    Kennington and the Old Lilian Baylis site has dragged on longer than anyone wanted, but don’t forget the Lib Dems had the site on the auction list for sale to private housing developers. While we continue work to get a community trust that is properly representative of the whole community to run the site, the Sport Action Zone is in any case delivering highly popular community sports activities. If we hadn’t won in 2006 this would all now be housing.

    The works in Clapham have now begun. Clapham is getting a new pool, a new and extended gym and sports facilities in a brand new leisure centre (extending onto a disused site the Lib Dems, again, had up for auction), plus a new library, health centre, and community arts centre in the old library. This will transform public provision in Clapham. The point of ‘Keep Clapham Swimming’ wasn’t to keep the pool open while it’s being rebuilt (how can you swim through rubble?). The campaign was to guarantee that Clapham would get a new pool – the Lib Dems and Tories were going to sell off the old site to developers (recurring theme here…) and had not published plans that guaranteed a new pool in the area at all.

    In total, we’re seeing the biggest-ever expansion of public leisure in Lambeth’s history, the biggest expansion in London outside the Olympics, and the opportunity for more people to use those facilities for free at certain times. It’s not a bad set of commitments!

  2. Cllr Steve Reed,

    I have been requesting an update on the former LB site from you for weeks now (March 12th, I asked @LambethLabour and March 4th, 9th and 10th, I asked you), all via Twitter. I want the practical details about how the former LB will be a community hub, what leisure facilities might be installed, how you will consult local people (or whether the 17% response survey is enough), and how this trust/hub will raise the £10 million that needs spending on it to repair it and make it more usable. Do you have plans to seek to have it de-listed? How are you going to raise the money needed for repairs in a political climate where cuts will be made nationally, whatever government is elected?

    I’m beginning to think that the Lib Dem plan to sell the site off might have been more beneficial for the local community, especially if this could have involved plans for selling part of it so that the rest of the site could be used for leisure. It looks to me like a great site for private and public housing which could pay for a public leisure centre. Instead of the co-op stuff, why not promise that the former Lilian Baylis site could be turned into a leisure centre (with swimming pool) for North Lambeth? You’ve been faffing around with all this John Lewis co-operative nonsense with no serious explanation about what will actually happen. What do you actually mean when you talk about a “community trust”? Which organisations would be a part of the trust? Can individuals join? What about local civic organisations? What about faith groups? How about local sports clubs? Who have you consulted about the idea of the trust? Can you provide examples in which a trust of the type you describe is currently in operation? How do I get more concrete information from you?

    Supposedly, Cllr Harrison requested a report from the officers sometime around 18th March re. the former Lilian Baylis. As yet, I’ve seen nothing. Who else am I supposed to ask? I’ve asked everybody I know for an update on this building, and I’ve completely run out of people to ask, and still, you’ve not responded to my questions.

    Consequently, I’ve a new blog post coming up on the failure of Lambeth Council to do anything with the Beaufoy. I figure that if answers are not forthcoming re. the former LB, maybe you’ll be able to shed light on the Beaufoy. Labour are not serving the residents of Princes Ward well at all by leaving these two public buildings either empty or in meanwhile use (and don’t even start with the “aren’t we good, we’re renting to SAZ line?”, because, quite frankly, it’s hardly difficult to arrange temporary use for community organisations).

    In the meantime, there is nowhere for north Lambeth people to swim. We’ve got the dead swimming pool in Southwark (the Fusion Centre) and our nearest local public swimming pool is miles down the road in Brixton (and that’s not open!) Facilities in Streatham are not going to be easily accessible to residents in Kennington, Oval and Vauxhall, and the proposed partnership with Southwark doesn’t help us because the nearest Southwark pool is also closed!

    Instead of promises, can’t we have concrete policies and explanations? There really is no call for the ongoing slagging off of other local political parties. Right now, that kind of bad mouthing looks like posturing in the face of a lack of good and implementable policy.

    A very cross,


  3. First, the Lib Dems and Tories put the whole Lilian Baylis site up for auction for private housing development. They had no plans for leisure facilities there, so inventing benefits they never planned for makes little sense. We have saved the entire site for the community. The Sports Action Zone based there are doing an amazing job – the place is full of young people and others from the local community week in and week out. Crime in the local area has fallen as a result. All sorts of other art-related activities take place there. This is hardly a bad thing to allow to continue while we find a way to put together a community trust that is properly representative of the whole community to run the site in the future.

    Your implication that I should dictate a solution runs counter to the cooperative solution we want to find that empowers local people. The Council will need certain guarantees about service provision on the site – including youth and sports provision and possibly nursery or early years provision. We are still working through that and will involve the community. When we have a trust in place, there will be some restrictions on what can be done to ensure the site continues to serve the whole community and not narrow sectional interests. But what we are doing here is new, it’s not straightforward and there is no easy precedent to follow. Things have gone slower than we’d like because of that but we are learning and I expect clear decisions to have been consulted on and agreements concluded by the end of this year.

    As for the lack of swimming and sports provision in the north of the borough – you’re right. That’s why we’ve supported and won agreement for a new public gym and swimming pool on Doon Street in Waterloo. This now has approval from the Secretary of State. That, together with the new pools in West Norwood, Streatham and Clapham, represents the biggest expansion of leisure – and swimming – in Lambeth’s history, and the biggest expansion in London outside the Olympics. Compare that to the Lib Dem / Tory joint proposals to sell off Lilian Baylis to developers, sell off the old Clapham Leisure Centre site to developers, sell of Brixton Rec to developers, their failure to find funding for any facilities in West Norwood, and their opposition to the pool in Waterloo. You can call this ‘slagging off’ other parties – but all I’m really doing is contrasting our positive plans with their record so voters can see clearly the choice they’ll have on 6 May.

  4. I just want to point out that Streatham has had NOWHERE to swim since the pool shut down last year and will not have a new pool until 2012. So we miss out completely on the free swimming. I’m very happy with the outcome of the plans for the hub but Lambeth residents won’t be able to enjoy it for several years yet.

  5. @Julia – good points. Not wanting to anticipate the response from Nu Labour, but I’m sure the temporary pool planned for Streatham will be mentioned. I didn’t hear anything about this at the cabinet meeting on Monday. All talk was focussed on the location for the temporary rink.

    Given that legal loopholes regarding planning for the temporary rink need to be negotiated, I’m still unsure if Labour plans to put a temporary swimming pool on Streatham Common.

    Of course a wider issue is the scenario of the LibDems regaining control of the council. Where does this leave the deal, and the temporary plans that the Labour group has put forward as an election pledge?

  6. Cllr Reed,

    I think it is rather disingenuous to keep claiming that the Lib Dems planned to sell off the site. Whilst this was an initial suggestion, it was vetoed by the LibDem Council of the time and never got off the ground. What instead happened was that in 2005 the Lib Dems wrote the Lambeth UDP, which stated, “Appropriate proposals for the Grade II listed Lilian Baylis school and its grounds would be supported… to enable redevelopment of the site for a mix of uses, including a mixed tenure housing scheme, community and leisure uses.” Labour then published that UDP with the Lib Dem suggestion unchanged. (See my blog post What then happened (or very nearly happened) is that Labour attempted to sell the site to the All Nations Church (ANC) despite the fact that the community wanted to see the building used for leisure, and the ANC are not primarily a leisure organisation. The Lib Dem/Tory coalition did have proposed leisure plans for the site, at least as indicated in the UDP line quoted above, which cites “leisure uses”. To say that Labour “saved” the site is wrong. Labour would have sold it off had it not been for the economic recession which meant that the ANC kept reducing their bids until the proposal became unviable.

    I do not deny that the SAZ are doing a great job. Of course they are. But their use is meanwhile use, and ignores the problem that the site needs £10 million worth of investment. So what Labour are doing is offering a sub-standard community facility for meanwhile use to the local youth, who really do deserve something better. This really does not deserve applause because anybody could do it. I might instead point out that no meanwhile use is taking place at the Beaufoy!

    I’m not implying that you should “dictate a solution”. I just want to see more concrete proposals. Since you’ve admitted that the “hub/trust/co-op” arrangement is new and untested, the burden of proof lies with Labour to argue that it will work. Why on earth should we trust that an untested model which appears to have no supporting documents behind it? Where exactly is the officers’ report on the former Lilian Baylis which Cllr Harrison was trying to procure on the 18th March? Before the election, perhaps the Princes Ward councillors could put together a meeting on the site to consult the Princes Ward residents about how they think the £10 million investment might be raised? That would at least be practical. By concrete, I’m looking for a policy document that spells out what a community hub might look like. Otherwise, how do we know that you’ll not just re-suggest the same three organisations that were proposed for the last hub? How do we know that this suggestion is not just a suggestion, and has legs, so to speak?

    You say, “we are learning and I expect clear decisions to have been consulted on and agreements concluded by the end of this year.” and yet I want to know who the “we” is. If this is a genuine community initiative, then the “we” should be both Lambeth Council and Princes Ward residents. Right now, “we” are not “learning” anything except that no movement appears to be taking place. If this is a true community initiative, why aren’t “we” being consulted now on the implementation of this hub? I really want to know what the officers are working on, so that I can know whether the community would even endorse the scheme. Right now the “we” seems to be Lambeth Council alone. If this is a joint endeavour, then you should not be afraid to reveal what work has been done so far (and by this, I mean that I want to see a policy document on a community hub).

    I am actually incandescent with rage that you stated, “we’ve supported and won agreement for a new public gym and swimming pool on Doon Street in Waterloo.” That was hardly without community controversy, was it? Very recently, Cllrs Harrison and Morgan suggested that 10% community housing was not sufficient for the proposed Fire Brigade development on the Albert Embankment. And yet, according to, “Eian Caws, for Lambeth Council and the Greater London Authority, argued that the absence of affordable housing from CSCB’s proposals is entirely consistent with planning policy.” Is it really Lambeth’s planning policy that the public may be fobbed off with a pool, in return for 0% public housing? If that is what “positive plans” look like, then it illuminates the council’s policies very differently.

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