News Walthamstow

Council scraps Walthamstow lido plans

A key pledge in Labour’s manifesto for the 2022 local elections, the council today ditched the Low Hall lido due to increased construction costs, steep interest rates and a lack of government funding, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Low Hall Sports Ground, Credit: Waltham Forest Council

Hopes for a new outdoor swimming space in Waltham Forest have taken a fresh hit after the council announced that a planned Walthamstow lido is “no longer viable”.

The lido at Low Hall sports ground in the St James Street end of Walthamstow, was a key pledge in Waltham Forest Labour’s manifesto for the 2022 local elections.

However, the council says it can no longer afford the idea due to a rise in construction costs, high interest rates and a lack of government funding.

The news is a second blow to residents’ hopes for new outdoor swimming spaces in the area, after London Councils recently revealed plans to build a secure children’s home on a site of a proposed community-owned outdoor swimming pool on Lea Bridge Road.

Council leader Grace Williams said: “At times of financial constraint for councils across the country, we are forced to make difficult decisions.

“Unfortunately, we can no longer justify the financial cost of a new lido during the current cost-of-living crisis.”

Cllr Williams said that interest rates are at a 15-year high, there is a high demand for “vital” council services and the council is facing a £28million shortfall for day-to-day services by 2026.

In the run-up to the 2022 elections, a Waltham Forest Labour spokesperson said a new lido would bring “excellent health and wellbeing benefits” for residents.

However, when the lido’s location at Low Hall sports ground on South Access Road was announced later that year, some questioned the choice of location.

It is located a 1.3mile walk from a former Thames Water depot on Lea Bridge Road, which a group of volunteers hope to turn into a “natural swimming pool and biodiverse park” called the East London Waterworks Park.

The waterworks park campaign has raised £547,000 through a Crowdfunder.

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However, only two weeks ago it emerged that the capital’s local government association, London Councils, is proposing to build a secure children’s home on the same site.

Low Hall is also partially on Metropolitan Open Land, which must not be built on except in “very special circumstances”.

The council estimates that construction of a lido would have cost £33.5m, funded by government-backed loans requiring £2m annual repayments.

This would have affected the council’s capital budget, which covers construction projects, equipment and other improvements and can be funded by long-term borrowing.

Most spending on day-to-day services, known as revenue, is a separate budget funded by council tax and government grants.

The council reports that increased demand for day-to-day services includes 70% more families using council-funded foodbanks, 1,000 more elderly and disabled residents needing care at home and a 50% increase in homelessness rates between last November and the year before.

In a statement released this morning, Cllr Williams said: “We are a council that prides itself on sound financial management, that never ducks making difficult decisions in the long-term interests of our residents.

“That has meant taking a closer look at our finances and ensuring that we do not overspend.

“It means prioritising services and people over other projects that will take money away from supporting residents.

“I’m hugely disappointed that we’ve had to stop plans to build a new lido in the borough because it’s no longer affordable, but it is the right thing to do in the face of a very difficult economic outlook, and years of reduced government funding.”

Chair of the East London Waterworks Park campaign Abigail Woodman said: “Open water swimming is good for our physical and mental health.

“Bringing East London Waterworks Park into being becomes even more important now the plans for a lido have been scrapped.

“Waltham Forest Council can still keep its promise to bring open water swimming back to the borough by supporting our plans to create a commuity-owned biodiverse park where we’ll all be able to swim for free.”

Note: This article was updated on 16th Feb with a quote from the ELWP chair

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