(P125) Cash crisis leaves Palace pool facing closure in March

exclusive by Ian Austen, Croydon Advertiser, Friday 19 September 2003

CRYSTAL Palace pool may shut at the end of March next year, the Advertiser can reveal.

The closure would mean the loss of the only competitive 50-metre pool in the south-east and could have a devastating effect on the future of swimming in the region, leaders in the sport have warned.

Fears were raised after Sport England, which runs the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace, revealed firm bookings for the pool after March 31 are not being taken. The best it can offer is a provisional booking it cannot guarantee to honour.

March 31 is the date Sport England's lease on the centre, including the athletics stadium, ends. The agreement will not be renewed because it cannot meet the increasing costs of running the centre on its own.

Bromley Council, which owns the land, is also refusing to take control, and says unless big money can be found closure of both sites is very much on the cards.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone pledged his support for the centre when he visited Crystal Palace earlier this month and said he would be working hard to reach a financial solution.

A rescue package would most likely mean a combination of cash from the Government, the Greater London Authority and probably the National Lottery.

Bromley made a Lottery bid in 1998 for a £40m revamp of the centre which included refurbishment of the pool, increasing the number of lanes from eight to ten and building a new four-lane warm-up pool.

That scheme is worth reviving according to John Cardwell, chief coach of Croydon Amphibians swimming club, which trains two nights a week at Crystal Palace.

Mr Cardwell said:

"The scheme would probably cost about £15m which is peanuts. The trouble with this country is we always go for the Rolls-Royce instead of going for the Morris Minor.

"Even if it doesn't come up to the standard of an international arena, it would still be a fantastic training facility. To lose it would be catastrophic for the whole of the south, and without the training facilities swimming in Croydon would be put back 10 years."

Geoff Cook, southern secretary of the Amateur Swimming Association, said:

"We have 60,000 members across the south and there is no comparable pool if we lose Crystal Palace."

Mark Brown, committee member of Streatham Swimming Club, said:

"We are very worried about the future. You need a 50-metre pool to swim faster and if Crystal Palace closes, important training facilities will be lost and we will not be able produce the international swimmers of the future."

Parents attending swimming classes on Tuesday were equally worried about possible closure. Margaret Garry said:

"It would be awful to lose it. The swimming lessons are very good. My children have been coming here since they were a few months old."

Lucy Weller said:

"It is massively well-used by people from all over the area."

And Phyllis Sternburg added:

"I would be very upset if the pool was to close. It has the best facilities in the area and there is a big demand for the swimming lessons."

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20/9/03 Last updated 20/9/03