Purley Pool and Leisure Centre, closed due to the pandemic, is unlikely to reopen because of Croydons financial crisis, despite a petition signed by more than 4,000 local residents.
Labour councillors told a meeting last night that their recent bankruptcy means they have to make difficult decisions to live within their means. This was met by shouts of “Shame” from the opposition.
Councillor Oliver Lewis explained that the leisure centres in the borough typically run at either a surplus or a deficit, and this is usually balanced. However, due to the pandemic and the recent bankruptcy, Purley Pool and Leisure Centre is no longer cost efficient.
Long term financial impact was also considered in the pool’s permanent closure. Councillor Felicity Flynn said: “It’s an old facility that would require considerable investment, and unfortunately this is money that the council doesn’t have.”
The petition was made by affected residents alongside Conservative councillors to prevent the pool’s permanent closure following its shutdown due to Covid-19.
All five of Croydon’s leisure centres had to close during the pandemic, but only Purley Leisure Centre is being considered for permanent closure. Councillor Badsha Quadir said: “Why does the happiness of the people of Purley matter less than those in areas with leisure centres staying open?”
Purley pool first came under threat in 2014, following the election of councillor Tony Newman as Labour leader of the council. Plans were announced to close the pool in 2015, which triggered a petition from affected residents.
Councillor Helen Redfern said: “The Purley [Leisure] Centre is uniquely underfunded, you have had six years to make the investment. Labour may have spent all the money, but you don’t seem to have bothered to seek alternative funding streams until now.”
Around 4,400 people have signed the petition to keep the pool open. It is a vital local resource for school children learning how to swim, and for low impact exercise for the elderly and the disabled.
Backlash from affected residents
Jenny Rofe-Radcliffe, 41, is one of many residents disappointed by the closure. “I was a regular user a couple of years ago and after redundancy earlier this year was looking forward to getting back to it,” she told Eastlondonlines.
“I’ll be gutted if it never re-opens, because as far as I know there’s no other pool that I can get to without spending at least an hour travelling for a swim.”
Other residents on Twitter shared in this disappointment:
Quotes were read out from children from St Aidan’s school by local teacher Colette Luke. “I watched the news and I saw that adults at Croydon council have made bad decisions with money ” said Abigail from year 6. “That’s their fault and its not fair that Purley pool should shut, and all the children should suffer.”
Councillor Helen Redfern, who represents Purley Oaks and Riddlesdown Ward, spoke to ELL following last night’s meeting. “I was really disappointed that the petition was not able to achieve concrete proposals for the future of Purley Pool and Leisure Centre. Councillor Lewis didn’t sound particularly enthusiastic about finding a solution, neither did he sound apologetic for letting down so many residents.”
The leisure centre serves an area that represents around a quarter of Croydon’s population. The closure of the facility means that the nearest pool will now involve a two and a half hour round trip for residents, which Redfern said was a massive deterrent for people keeping fit.
“The Council should be providing fitness opportunities to residents in all parts of the borough, but a quick look at a map shows a whole swathe of the south of Croydon has no access to public facilities. That isn’t right.”
Redfern also highlighted the poor decision making that has led residents to this point. “Croydon Council has found over £200 million to finance Brick by Brick that has failed to provide housing for our residents. If less than 1% of that funding has gone to Purley Pool, it would be in a position to be kept open.”
Brick by Brick continues to be key ammunition against the council and it’s financial situation, as it recently postponed the decision on its future.