A new £23million sports complex will be built in Walthamstow after the latest plans for it were granted planning permission – despite a determined opposition campaign.
In a feisty planning committee meeting lasting two-and-a-half hours, specially arranged by Waltham Forest Council to accommodate a wide range of strong views, councillors heard numerous demands for a 5-metre diving board to be included in the plans instead of the proposed 3m board.
There were also concerns over health and safety at the new Walthamstow Pool and Track, how various sports groups would share the facilities, whether there had been adequate public consultation, and access for the disabled.
The previous sports centre that occupied the site in Chingford Road, now demolished to make way for the new scheme, had included a 5m board and a dedicated diving pool which Olympic medallist Peter Waterfield credits with launching his career.
One of many campaigners who spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting was Rachel Wedderburn. She said: “We need these diving facilities here in our borough. What is the council seeking to win by this development – bronze, silver or gold?”
Statutory bodies such as Sport England had backed the council’s plans not to include a 5m board, with divers who wanted to use one told instead to go to the London Aquatics Centre in Stratford.
Coaches from the swimming and diving clubs that used the previous pool also raised concerns that they would not be able to share the new facilities because there would not be a fully separated diving pool.
A petition to save the 5m board had raised hundreds of signatures, but councillors warned that the money to build the new sports centre would be lost if its plans – revised following the rejection of an earlier scheme last year – were not approved.
Cllr Steve Terry said: “We have attempted to make amendments to the plan without losing the chance to have a great facility.
“We now face a stark choice between the leisure centre proposed today, or a leisure centre with much reduced facilities. We could lose £23m in funding.”
Contractor Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) attempted to appease the protesters, who filled the public viewing gallery at Waltham Forest Civic Centre, but many remained angry and on occasions the meeting threatened to descend into a slanging match.
GLL also admitted that one of the key reasons for not including a 5m diving board was financial, as a 3m board would attract a wider range of users and therefore a greater income.
Chris Symons, director of development at the company, said: “There will be a significant increase in amenity and the new pool will be double in size.
“The number of users each year will increase from 200,000 to 650,000. We are not ashamed to make this the best facility in London.”
But Peri Stanley, manager of the Waltham Forest Disability Resource Centre, claimed that no disabiliy groups had been consulted over the scheme and described its proposed access arrangements as “a compromise”.
Members of the Orion Harriers running club also spoke in objection as they claimed their access to toilet facilities and warm-up areas from the new athletics track would be worse than before.
As members of the planning committee debated the merits of the sports complex a compromise was reached over the issues raised by the Harriers, with a condition added specifying GLL must relocate the toilets and provide adeqaute warm-up facilities.
However, the absence of a 5m board remained the last obstacle to approving the scheme. One committee member, Cllr Alan Siggers, summed up the situation. He said: “If the 5m board is the only thing stopping us approving the scheme, we will be doing the general public a disservice by not doing so.”
The plans were approved by three votes to one.