How to solve a problem like Streatham Hub? Preferably by keeping local politicians and corporate paymasters out of the whole process. That was pretty much the conclusion come the end of @ChukaUmunna‘s first People’s Question Time, held in the Labour MP’s Streatham constituency on Thursday evening.
The Hub is a headline writer’s gift that keeps on giving. At any one time over the past ten years, stories of mismanagement have surfaced out of SW16.
The latest entry log states that @lambeth_council has now admitted that “plans will not move forward” for the temporary swimming pool in Streatham, and Tesco stating that “Lambeth Council has compromised in choosing Pope’s Road as a site for the temporary ice rink.”
The Hub saga story so far…
In a classic you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours scenario, the corporate superstore was granted planning permission in Streatham, in return for building a new leisure centre and a new ice rink. So far, so good.
The trouble is that this was almost ten years ago. The scheme is filled with as much uncertainty a decade later as it was back in the day. The timeline up until 2010 has included Tesco holding all the cards and threatening to walk away unless an increased floor space was granted, the closure (and failure to re-open) of Streatham Leisure Centre and the continued search for a temporary ice rink in Streatham.
Ah yes – about that
Streatham Brixton temporary ice rink. It is the “continuity of ice” clause in the original planning document that led the good @ChukaUmunna to hold this current crisis meeting.
Essentially Tesco has to provide an ice pad at all times in Streatham. This was fine with the original agreement, which involved constructing the brand new rink on the Hub site, and then knocking down the old barn.
The corporate paymaster became impatient however, and wanted to bulldoze the site with one great big swing of the wrecking ball. Meanwhile @lambeth_council was left looking rather silly, searching around for a suitable site in an urban borough to place a whopping great big temporary ice pad.
The packed assembly hall at Dunraven School on Thursday night was unanimous in rejecting @lambeth_council’s current plan to shift Streatham Ice Rink down the A23 to Pope’s Road Car Park in Brixton.
“This is a highly emotive issue,” admitted @ChukaUmunna at the start of the People’s Question Time. “There is a perception in the community that residents have been held in the dark over recent months.”
Sandra Fryer, representing the council as the Divisional Director of Strategies and Partnerships stated:
“We have been working with Tesco since March on the location. Streatham Common had processing issues [eh?] – it would have taken us longer than we wanted to place the rink here. There were also technical issues. It wasn’t clear where the power source would come from.”
You would have hoped that before rubber-stamping the Streatham Common site back in March, cabinet would have had the foresight to address basic issues such as where the power for the ice pad was going to come from.
A solution is available, slightly closer to home than the Pope’s Road compromise.
“We also looked at a site on Streatham High Road,” admitted Fryer. “Tesco have a budget however, and weren’t able to progress with this option.”
And so it seems that Pope’s Road became the preferred location on account of @lambeth_council already owning the site. Two birds can be killed with one stone, by demolishing the structurally unsafe council car park, and then plonking the ice pad there instead.
The fear for the Streatham skating and hockey community however is that Pope’s Road becomes permanent, and the south end of the borough loses one of it’s most historic and cultural sites of interest forever.
Having skipped the previous Streatham Hub public meeting, it was decent for the corporate paymaster to turn up this time. Mike Kissman, the UK Corporate Affairs Manager for Tesco, told the meeting:
“Running an ice rink is not something that we have a great deal of experience in.”
Best learn on the job then, Mr Corporate Affairs Man. Tesco will be financing the temporary pad and is expected to either manage the facility itself, or put in place a management team that is capable of the job.
Questions then followed from the floor.
“The plans for Streatham Hub have chopped and changed so much, what guarantees can you give this meeting that this won’t happen again?”
Apt timing for the fashionably late arrival of Councillor Florence Nosegbe, the Cabinet Member for Culture, Sport and the Olympics:
“We own Pope’s Road – we can control the process. It will be easier for the council to move forward.”
Tesco’s Kissman added:
“Time is the issue for Tesco.”
You can bet it is. Every week that Tesco hasn’t got a superstore open in Streatham is a week where the competitors along the High Road are rubbing their hands and lining their tills. Plus it’s, ahem, a little late in the day for Tesco to be complaining about the Hub timeline after a decade of dithering.
A speaker from the floor came back to the location of the temporary rink, and picked up on the point why Pope’s Road has been chosen, rather than the High Road location:
“With annual profits recently revealed, plus with the planned increased of 20,000 extra floor space at Streatham, Tesco is not exactly light of wallet right now. Why can’t the company pay to finance the staging of the temporary rink along the High Road?”
This question achieved the loudest applause of the evening, if not the most adequate of answers:
“We have been through difficult times,” said Kissman. “We are still here. We are an organisation, and not a local authority.”
Which all rather begs the question who is actually controlling leisure in Lambeth? The local authority that is reliant upon the private capital to finance the schemes, or the private capital paymaster that won’t be accountable?
Jimmy Gardner from the Streatham Chiefs Ice Hockey team then made an impassioned speech:
“We had a show of hands this week. If Streatham Ice Rink moves to Pope’s Road then my club will fold. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – there is no demand for ice hockey in Streatham, and so there is no need to build a rink back in SW16.”
“Why won’t you work with other local councils?” asked another question. “If Lambeth Council actually spoke to the likes of the neighbouring Merton Council, you might actually find a site closer to home.”
Other observations from the floor centred on the Brixton location, with accusations that “the Lambeth cabinet is not visible in Streatham. Everything has to be Brixton based.”
The meeting then moved on to discuss dimensions – dimensions of the temporary ice pad and dimensions of possible parking space at Pope’s Road.
Councillor Nosegbe confirmed that the temporary pad will be 56m x 26m in dimension – a size smaller than a standard hockey pad, and a space that is unsuitable for figure skating, as the mother of a Streatham skater pointed out.
The @LambethLabour Councillor also confirmed that there is the “possibility” of parking for twenty spaces at Pope’s Road. The average hockey team benches twenty-five players.
Finally we came on to the Elephant in the Streatham meeting road – swimming.
With all the focus on the temporary ice pad, swimming has been overlooked in Streatham. Swimming has been overlooked in all of Lambeth over the past four years, if truth be told.
Whereas ice time had a continuity clause in the Hub deal, swimming has historically not been treated to this privilege. This is probably because @lambeth_council wasn’t expecting to close Streatham Leisure Centre late last year, without an alternative plan in place.
Councillor Nosegbe said:
“I recognise that there has been an under-investment in the pool. We don’t have the funds for a temporary arrangement in Streatham. We won’t be going forward with this.”
Where all of this leaves the @LambethLabour election manifesto pledge of “free swimming for every resident” is somewhat uncertain right now.
A final question pondered: “What will happen at the cabinet meeting on Monday night?”
The implication within the question was whether or not Councillor Nosegbe would report back to her @LambethLabour friends on the strength of feeling against the Pope’s Road compromise that is currently being felt within Streatham.
The reality of course is that the @LambethLabour cabinet will have a friendly chit chat on Monday evening, and the temporary ice pad will be agreed to be put in place at Pope’s Road in under half an hour after the meeting has commenced.
The real question however is will the Pope’s Road rink ever actually open, and more importantly, will @ChukaUmunna still be holding his People’s Question Time in five, ten years time, still pondering the Streatham Hub question?