Kingston town centre ‘ruined’ by leisure centre bulldozing

Kingston Council revealed earlier this year it did not have enough cash in its current budget to build the replacement for the Kingfisher Leisure Centre, on Fairfield Road in Kingston town centre, it had originally planned, which would have cost almost £80million.

One resident claims a park near the demolished leisure centre has quickly become a hotspot of antisocial behaviour and drug taking. The sudden drop in the number of people walking through Fairfield Park, opposite the old Kingfisher site, has made it an ideal place to get high, according to the resident.

The Kingfisher shut in 2019 and was demolished late last year, after it was decided repairs to fix the roof would cost more than £5m. The council scrapped original plans for the replacement after carrying out a tendering process to appoint a contractor for the project, which returned a figure of £79.5m.

Kingston Council has now approved a new facility mix for the complex, which will not open until at least early 2027. A council report said the approved budget for the scheme is £44.5m, £3.3m has been spent so far and an early estimate of the outline cost of the revised project is £42.5m.

But residents told the Local Democracy Reporting Service they think the council should have fixed the roof on the old centre instead.

One mum, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed there is “drug activity” in Fairfield Park, opposite the old Kingfisher site, “because nobody’s walking through anymore”. She said the area has “gone downhill here because nobody’s frequenting the park anymore in the evenings”. 

The resident, who has lived in Kingston for around 15 years, said: “Because there is no gym – usually people were walking through, back and forth, from the swimming pool, from the gym, everything, and even taking the cut-through to the town centre – now it’s really bad. My husband is going to the gym nearby and in the evening; he as a grown person doesn’t walk through the park anymore.”

She said it is now “dead quiet” later in the day so people are “taking advantage, you can smell the weed in the evenings” and hear “loud music”. She said her 12-year-old daughter “can’t walk around anymore in the evening”.

The local added: “They ruined it, they literally ruined it with that. They didn’t think things through.” 

She said the only council-owned pool left is in New Malden, at the Malden Centre, which is small and “not even a good one”. She does not know where her three-year-old son will learn to swim as locals “don’t have pools left anymore where [kids] can learn swimming”.

Surrey Comet: Steph standing outside the former Kingfisher Leisure CentreSteph standing outside the former Kingfisher Leisure Centre (Image: Facundo Arrizabalaga)

Steph, 63, who did not wish to give her surname, said the “whole borough” used to go the Kingfisher – where her 23-year-old daughter learnt how to swim.

The mum said free swimming lessons previously provided at the Kingfisher had been “stolen” from locals, and “every single child in this borough has been deprived of learning how to swim”.

About the revised plans, she was pessimistic about them ever coming to fruiition. She said: “It’s not going to happen. They’re going to put tower blocks up and then they don’t think about which doctors do the people go to, what school do they go to. That’s my local doctor over there, [I] can’t get an appointment because they’re just shoving [people in].”

Steph added: “The worst is the children. Do you know how many children will not be able to swim? Thousands.” She said the Kingfisher was “perfect” and “all they had to do was fix the roof, there was nothing wrong with the swimming pool”. 

Mum Sarah Aizenberg, 34, who moved to Kingston from Chiswick in December 2022, said: “I’m fairly new to the area, so I wasn’t here when it got demolished. But from talking to other parents in the playground, I’ve definitely heard other people say that it has affected where they can take their children swimming and I hear that on social media platforms as well – especially because lots of families want to take their kids swimming for practice and to teach them, so I know that’s been a big impact on the community.”

Regarding replacing the Kingfisher, Lib Dem councillor Andreas Kirsch, leader of the council, said: “We are fully committed to providing a new leisure centre with swimming facilities for the borough on this site. We have made progress as quickly as possible to bring forward revised plans, whilst ensuring robust processes are in place for delivery.

“We have a clear route for procuring the services we need to design and build the new centre within an affordable budget. This means that we will deliver the facilities that meet the needs of residents and that they told us they wanted most.

“To do this we reconsidered some of the facilities in the centre, reviewed the overall design and structure, and looked at the business model. This enables us to include additional benefits, such as a new wellbeing suite and spa and a larger soft play area, while retaining our focus on inclusion, disabled-friendly access and sustainability.

“We know that the leisure centre is crucially important for people and communities across Kingston and for the wider culture and heritage-led regeneration of the town centre. The plans now in place will enable us to do this in a responsible and timely way.”

Surrey Comet | Kingston