Ealing Council’s cabinet will consider initial plans for a new 50-metre, Olympic-sized swimming pool and fitness studio to replace the Gurnell Leisure Centre (23 February 2023).
Under the new plan, the new Gurnell would see the range of fitness and wellbeing facilities significantly expanded, ensuring that it meets modern standards.
The proposals outline a range of options for a new leisure centre on the site. Initially built in the late 1970s, the existing centre is now past its expected lifespan. It was closed at the start of the first COVID-19 lockdown, and reopening it has proved unviable because it is structurally unsafe. The proposals being considered would see the existing, dilapidated structure demolished while plans for its replacement are developed and agreed upon by the end of 2023.
After the council’s planning committee rejected a previous proposal for a new centre at the site in April 2021 because the residential towers were too high, the council undertook an extensive listening exercise, including an in-depth survey of local people in June 2022.
The Gurnell Community Sounding Board, made up of representatives from a diverse range of interested groups and centre users, as well as ward councillors, was formed to provide a way for community and leisure stakeholders to play a role in planning the future use of the site. Based on the information presented to it, the board reached two important conclusions:
The existing building cannot be refurbished because doing so would be prohibitively expensive and would not offer enough environmental or social benefit to justify the cost.
Alongside this, the council appointed consultants Mikhail Riches and GT3 Architects to consider options for the centre’s future, including a feasibility study. The study resulted in five options for the brief for the replacement leisure centre at various sizes and costs.
While the council has adopted a retrofit-first approach in tackling the climate emergency, extensive feasibility work has established that a new building would have a less impactful carbon footprint than attempting to maintain the energy-inefficient existing building.
Given the pressure on council budgets, each option considers providing outstanding leisure facilities while reducing the impact on the council’s budget as much as possible. That means that some of the cost must be offset by developing new homes on the site, of which at least 35 per cent will be affordable. In each case, this would need to be supplemented by some council borrowing.
The current preferred initial option would cost an estimated £ 45 million and incorporate the land where the existing centre and car park sit. The rejected 2021 plans for the site included a 17-storey tower but, in the preferred option, the tallest building will be up to a maximum of 10 storeys, with somewhere in the region of 200 to 300 homes in total. These early plans are still in development and will only be further progressed after detailed conversations with the Community Sounding Board and with residents.
The decision to be made at the council’s cabinet meeting on Wednesday, 22 February, will enable more detailed design activity to take place, with an application for planning permission then due to be submitted by the end of the year. It includes an agreement to release £ 2.5 million to fund further planning activity, as well as to carry out the demolition of the existing, unsafe leisure centre building.
Councillor Peter Mason is the leader of the Ealing Council. He said: “Ealing’s young people, families and future athletes deserve a world-class modern swimming and leisure centre, and we remain committed to delivering a new Gurnell where residents can stay fit and healthy, both mentally and physically.
“The previous proposals for Gurnell simply did not work and were not good enough for Ealing. Since we took the decision to start from scratch, we’ve heard a broad range of opinions on Gurnell, both from last year’s big public engagement and from establishing the Gurnell Community Sounding Board. We are clear that there is a growing consensus that the future of the site has to include a brand new, state-of-the-art leisure facility with a 50m swimming pool, but without an extra rise in council tax to pay off the debt and high-interest rates of unnecessary borrowing.
“So, we’re doing exactly what most residents who expressed their view suggested – we are proposing a mixed model where some of the cost of building a new centre is funded by also building new homes to either rent or sell at the site. As with all new housing developments in the borough, we will ensure that the scheme delivers at least 35% affordable homes, and every effort will be made to ensure the natural environment is protected and local biodiversity is retained and improved.
“We know that not everyone is going to agree. But we also know that we are all going to need to make some compromises if we are going to get the doors of a new Gurnell open soon. The conversation does not stop here. We are at a very early stage, and no final decisions have been made about the design of the scheme, and as an open, inclusive and transparent council, we will continue to work with local residents and the Community Sounding Board on the detail of the proposals.”
Councillor Shital Manro is Ealing Council’s lead member for good growth. He said: “Brexit, the cost-of-living crisis, and rocketing interest rates have all made this project more challenging, but we are determined to deliver the outstanding facilities that residents have told us they want to see at Gurnell.
“An independent assessor found that the cost of fully refurbishing the existing building to extend its life would run into the region of £ 18 million. With no means of offsetting the cost, that would be a huge amount of money to find after years of austerity which have seen the government cut our budget by 64% since 2010. With the agreement of the Community Sounding Board that the old building must go, we can now focus on building a new centre instead.
“We want to ensure that residents have a say in big local decisions like this and a loud voice in shaping the future of their communities. We will continue to work with them to deliver a new leisure centre that we can all be proud of.”
Mikhail Riches and GT3 Architects were appointed by Ealing Council to explore the feasibility of options for the site and to develop plans for a mixed-use leisure and residential development. Mark Gowdridge is the director of GT3 Architects. He said: “The new Gurnell will be full of the latest technology and design ideas. Working alongside Mikhail Riches, we will bring leisure and housing together into one exemplar sustainable masterplan, engaging with the site’s unique surroundings and sensitive to its parkland setting. We are excited to be working with the community to ensure these aims and objectives are met, creating a truly unique destination for the people of Ealing.”
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