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Elephant leisure centre: cross-party call for rethink on squash courts

A cross-party scrutiny committee has called on Southwark's Labour cabinet to investigate ways of retaining squash courts as part of the rebuilt Elephant & Castle Leisure Centre.

Elephant leisure centre: cross-party call for rethink on squash courts
The existing squash courts at the Elephant & Castle Leisure Centre drew 9,000 visits last year

A month ago we reported on plans to sell half of the existing leisure centre site to developers Lend Lease for a 30+ storey residential tower and to press ahead with plans for a new leisure centre on the rear half of the site with a swimming pool but a smaller sports hall and no squash courts.

The decision by Cllr Richard Livingstone, cabinet member for resources, to proceed with the leisure centre project was 'called in' for scrutiny by Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors.

The opposition councillors queried the decision to use the council's existing contract for school building and refurbishment projects to deliver the leisure centre rather than holding a new procurement process.

There was also concern about the lack of clarity regarding the cost/benefit analysis of multi-purpose sports hall versus cafe provision.

Councillors pointed out that according to the governing body for squash, a squash court costs about 40,000 to build and has an annual return of about 12,000.

The overview and scrutiny committee held a three-hour meeting on Monday night during which councillors debated the relative merits of cafes, creches, five a side football and lacrosse.

The committee, which upheld the cabinet member's decision, also decided to ask the cabinet to look again at the provision of squash courts at the Elephant & Castle. If this proves impossible, the committee has asked that the cabinet seriously considers making new provision for squash elsewhere in the borough.

"At last the council is starting to see sense in offering a wider mix of facilities at the proposed new Elephant & Castle Leisure Centre," says Cathedrals ward councillor Geoffrey Thornton who has led the campaign to save the squash courts.

"With over 9,000 visits to the squash courts alone last year, it makes both financial and sporting sense to be including them in any future design.

"There are no other public squash courts in the borough and this is a clear message that in the era that the Olympics come to London, and as thousands of new residents move into the area politicians from all parties want the best sporting solution to be achieved.

"I therefore welcome any commitment from the council to engage more fully with our country's national sporting institutions."

Speaking after the meeting the chair of the overview and scrutiny committee, Cllr Cathy Bowman, said: "Once in a while it is nice to put party differences aside in the interests of the borough. It was good to see councillors from all parties working together to get the best result for local residents."

Signing the official decision notice, Cllr Richard Livingstone said: "I have been advised by officers that this issue will continue to be looked at in the detailed design stage and the architects have the expertise to consider whether squash courts could be included."

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