Redbridge Council leader Keith Prince issues challenge to Labour over future swimming pool

Leader of the council Cllr Keith Prince

Leader of the council Cllr Keith Prince - Credit: Archant

Plans to build a temporary swimming pool with a lifespan of five years have ignited heated debate between the Conservative and the Labour groups in Redbridge.

Cllr Jas Athwal

Cllr Jas Athwal - Credit: Archant

With the council elections looming in May, the council leader, Cllr Keith Prince, has been accused of “electioneering” by Labour councillors over the timing of his plans to build a leisure complex in Seven Kings car park, High Road.

But this week, he issued an open letter through the Recorder to Labour leader Cllr Jas Athwal to prove he had a better plan to give the borough a much-desired pool.

The Ilford Public Baths closed in 2008 and have since been demolished, leaving swimmers with only one option in Redbridge – the Fullwell Cross pool in Barkingside.

Last month a temporary pool opened in Wanstead.

It will be there for 12 weeks as part of the Mayor of London’s Make a Splash programme.

The Seven Kings plans were approved in December despite Labour’s opposition.

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Since then, Labour councillors, including Cllr Athwal, have slammed the proposals as a waste of money.

It has led to the council leader defending his plan, which he believes is affordable, in his letter, published in full below. Cllr Prince also believes it will leave the option for future regeneration at the site. But in Cllr Athwal’s response, also printed in full below, he deemed it an “incredibly bad business” proposition”.

Cllr Prince’s letter:

Dear Jas,

I have been outlining the administration’s proposals to provide a temporary pool and leisure complex.

I have explained the reasons why I believe this is the best solution as it will deliver within the next 12 months: a 25m swimming pool, a new gym and fitness facility and an enhanced library provision for Seven Kings.

In addition, as explained at various meetings, the advantages are:

1. It will be at an affordable cost, no need for the council to borrow many millions of pounds.

2. It will not blight the proposal site in regards to future regeneration.

3. It will leave the door open for a joint development of the site at a later stage.

Since announcing our intention to deliver this facility, you and your colleagues have publicly criticised the proposals and dismissed it as being a waste of money. You claim that you have a far better option at a similar cost. You also claim that your option is for a permanent solution ie 30-year lifespan.

I have built my tenure as leader of the council on being somebody who is always willing to listen. Therefore, further to my offer to you at last week’s Overview Committee, I am publicly inviting you to meet with me to share your proposals. If what you say is true and your proposals are a better solution, then I am more than willing to jointly pursue them with you. So what I am proposing is that we put politics aside and work together to provide the best possible provision for the residents of Redbridge.

Cllr Keith Prince

Cllr Athwal’s letter:

Dear Keith,

Let me first summarise why we have been so critical of your proposals:

1. Building a pool with a two to five-year lifespan whilst borrowing £2m to be repaid over 20 years is an incredibly bad business proposition, especially when your proposed three-year budget already has a black hole of £38m.

2. Closing a permanent library for a temporary one, lacks judgement.

3. You spent £170,000 on a feasibility study before the last election, discarding it when the election was over. Hence our suspicions on the £40,000 to be spent on your latest feasibility report, again just before an election.

Labour demonstrated its commitment to a permanent pool two years ago, presenting a fully costed and affordable solution. You voted against the proposal and have been unwilling to discuss how a good value permanent pool could be provided, saying there is no money. I find it incredible that having ridiculed a permanent pool solution for three years, you now want to work with me to see if you can deliver the Labour proposal.

I welcome the opportunity you have provided to show how Labour will govern more responsibly. Budget council is the correct forum for all parties to agree their options. We will use that forum again to put forward a costed proposal for a permanent pool and hope you will support it this time. Failing that, I reaffirm our resolve that a Labour council will deliver on our pledge to build a permanent pool if we earn the support of the people in May.

Cllr Jas Athwal