Opinion: Streatham Hub – “sit up and take notice”

Kevin Rye, from Save Skating in Streatham, explains why he’s campaigning against proposals for the ice rink to be temporarily moved to Pope’s Road in Brixton

‘Streatham Hub’. Two words that strike fear into the hearts of Lambeth Council. The project that is supposed to regenerate the site of the old Streatham ice rink has been a long-time coming, and it has got people in Brixton and Streatham rather hot under the collar.

Indeed, had you been shopping in Brixton Market last Tuesday you would have noticed that the usual fruit and veg stalls were replaced with rivers of plastic sheeting and protest signs from a group opposing the development. The group includes a wide range of interests, from high-street chains, individual businesses and concerned residents, to organisations such as Friends of Brixton Market and Transition Town Brixton, to The Brixton Society and Brixton Market Traders Federation.

It all emanates from the ‘Streatham Hub’. Tesco bought the site of the current Streatham ice rink almost ten years ago and in 2001 agreed to develop a ‘Hub’ with new leisure facilities, a new supermarket and 250 new homes. But last year, Tesco indicated it might not be able to follow through on the plans, in particular building a new ice rink. In they end, they agreed to provide a temporary ice rink between the closing of the old one and the opening of a new one. The big question now is where that temporary rink will be situated. Lambeth Council has proposed the site of a car-park in Popes Road, Brixton, which is deemed vital both by the council itself (in a 2003 Cabinet document) and desperately needed by traders (whose turnover is down 50% while council rents are up a similar amount).

But this plan is in direct contravention of the Section 106 finally signed in December 2008 by Tesco, after years of wrangling. In fact the deal was pretty much tied-up in December 2004, but Tesco have something of a reputation of dragging their heels.

The S106 – ‘community kickback’ as it’s sometimes known – guaranteed ‘continuity of provision’ on the current site of the rink over the period that the new combined rink and leisure centre was to be built. Ken Livingstone as Mayor at the time had insisted on this, and so the deal contained clauses that forced them to build the rink and leisure centre first before anything else.

This would guarantee against the precedent set in Richmond, when a property developer (quelle suprise) bought one of the most famous rinks in the country, paid the Council £2.9m to remove similar guarantees (in excess of £5m in today’s money), then knocked it down, built flats and that was that.

But Tesco came crawling back to the council pleading poverty just three months after they signed the S106 and the idea of a temporary ice rink on Streatham Common was – ridiculously in my opinion – put forward. HOOC (Hands Off Our Common) pointed out that the word ‘Common’ actually meant something, and Brixton soon emerged as the favourite.

The big question that I keep coming back to is quite simply: why does a multi-billion-pound turnover business sign off a deal to develop a site it knows is going to cost ‘x’ amount of pounds during deep financial crisis and a period of collapsing property prices, and then ‘suddenly’ realise three months later that they ‘can’t afford it’? Don’t forget thatwhen they got the council to agree to this ‘relocation’ of such a vital element of the site, Tesco also slung in an application to expand the store space by another 56%.

I’ll make a suggestion. This is about Tesco building one of the biggest stores they’ve got. It’s about sewing up the grocery market – and increasingly non-food items – from London to Brighton; most of all, it’s about them ensuring that they earn the maximum return for their shareholders.

And I’ll suggest to you what it isn’t about: it isn’t about communities being provided with the facilities they need; it isn’t about the continuation of one of London’s most well known and oldest leisure and sporting venues.

No matter what Lambeth say about this development, it’s all about Tesco earning money, Lambeth not having enough, and the council trying to do this ‘deal with the devil’ to make sure it gets a project finally built that’s been on the drawing board for years.

In South London alone in recent years we’ve lost Streatham Bowling Alley, Catford Dogs (Greyhounds), Plough Lane (Football), Richmond (Ice Skating). We no longer have speedway at Wimbledon because the track owner decided it didn’t suit their business plan – the famous Wimbledon Dons now race in exile.

I’m no Nimby, really, but London is in danger of turning into a giant housing estate-cum-supermarket chain.

I’m one of many thousands of people in Brixton and Streatham who is no longer going to sit back and witness this particular story play out. And it’s in my power as a local resident to make sure Lambeth don’t make a total rickets of a very simple proposition. And it’s in yours too.

I haven’t even gone into the aggressive behaviour by Lambeth Council officers towards Streatham residents and ice-rink users; or their scandalous treatment of a local councillor – throwing her out of a meeting (a local authority legal expert said he didn’t know how to deal with the incident off the top of his head as ‘this has never happened before’); or the frankly odd behaviour by Tesco – convening meetings with Streatham businesses without telling local councillors.

Whether or not you like ice skating, whether or not you shop in Brixton, if nothing else I hope the behaviour alone of Tesco and Lambeth makes you sit up and take notice.

If you want to know more, Save Skating in Streatham can be found on Facebook and Don’t Ice Brixton Market have their own website.


  1. I’d be interested to hear Mp’s debate Tesco and other supermarkets’ practices in this area. Maybe Chuka Umunna might like to lead on this?

  2. As a Streatham local we really don’t need another huge supermarket here. It’s quite enough having one large supermarket on one end of the common and a medium sized one at the other.
    I really enjoy the fact that i can go ice skating or Go-cart driving any time very easily and I’m still miffed that the swimming pool from this stretch of road has had to close down.
    Tesco pleading poverity? Doubt it.

  3. Like most of these developments, Tesco will appeal and get their own way as the court costs rise to millions and the council back down as they have more to lose.

  4. D’you know this has been going on for so bloody long I’d entirely forgotten the details of the continuity clause.

    …and the 56% increase in size?! Good God they’re sneaky buggers.

    I have to say, as a Streatham resident I’m in 100% agreement with this article.

  5. Compare this to what they did in Slough:

    They acquired the Co-op site to use as their own while they redevelopped their hangar-sized store half a mile up the road. The agreement was to vacate the Co-op site for another supermarket.

    The vacated in 2005 and sat on the site. Eventually they demolished the building and started building a *much* smaller replacement, claiming it would be better for the local community.

    It took the Competition Commission to force them to stop building, demolish their paltry replacement and oversee the disposal to a competitor ASAFP. Sainsbury’s will finally open there in the next month or two, over 5 years after Tesco first broke their agreement with the local council.

    They have no interest in the community of course – it’s all about ensuring they have no competition. Well, they failed big time in Slough.

  6. But that’s precisely, I suspect, what Tesco are hoping. The point with these sorts of projects is you must force them to hold to the promises they’ve made and not to be scared to do so. After all, it’s not as though we’re asking them for something they didn’t promise is it?

    The risk in not doing so is that we end up with nothing. We can’t take that risk.

  7. My concern, like David’s is that Tesco are suggesting option after option that they know will lead to local protests while the current ice rink continues to crumble having had practically no maintenance this millenium. The machinery that freezes the ice is about 80 years old and is only kept going by the expertise and love of very few. This project needs to be kept moving.

    Thanks for raising the profile of this serious issue.

  8. Surely by opposing a temporary rink, it makes it easier for Tesco to claim there isn’t really any option but not to build another one at all.

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