By Zoe Jewell, editor
Brixton’s iconic Recreation Centre could be knocked down or comprehensively refurbished, as part of plans for the area’s future.
In a draft planning document drawn up by Lambeth council planners and put out for consultation, it has been suggested that the Rec be sold and a replacement site found for Brixton leisure facilities.
The iconic building, opened in 1985, was once visited by Nelson Mandela during a stay in 1996 and is used by a wide range of Brixton residents.
In the Supplementary Planning Document (SPD), consultants suggested that a new sports facility could be built on the site of the temporary ice rink in Pope’s Road, and that shops and housing are built in place of the Rec.
Residents had until Monday September 24 to comment on the plans on a shared online document and in workshops, though the council has been criticised for failing to publicise meetings adequately.
Bill Linskey, Chair of the Brixton Society, said that simply repairing the existing recreation centre and running it efficiently, which could be another option for the Rec, “seems to me to be far and away the most likely and practical.” He described building a new site as “a vast undertaking. There would need to be cast-iron guarantees that a developer would provide a new centre with facilities as good as the existing one and that the new centre would be completed and open before the existing one is closed and there would be public parking. This is one heck of a shopping list.”
Adrian Thomas, who works in Brixton and regularly uses the Rec, said: “I’d be disappointed if it was to be shut down. It’s quite a hub for the local community. Everyone’s comfortable with the environment. Where are people going to go in the meantime if they break it down?”
The draft SPD cites inaccessibility as a reason for the possible demolition of the Rec: “Many residents think it is inaccessible because current access arrangements require the use of an exterior flight of stairs or a long ramp which is dark and not particularly welcoming.”
The document also says running costs for the existing Rec are expected to rise significantly. On September 15 part of the ceiling above the café collapsed after a flood, leaving the centre closed to the public for the rest of the day.
However Cllr Lib Peck, cabinet member for regeneration, denied that there would be a financial reason to move sites, saying: “I wouldn’t say it’s economically unviable.”
Cllr Peck emphasised that these ideas will be opened again to consultation with residents during a statutory consultation period later in the autumn. “We will look at imaginative ways to engage in the way we have done over the summer”, she said.
The current centre offers a wide range of facilities including a swimming pool, gym and indoor bowls.
Linskey insisted that “the important thing is that the council must make its mind up about these options. A clear direction needs to be in the final draft.” Unless this is laid out clearly in the final planning document, developers are more likely to be able to decide the future of sites themselves, rather than the council or residents.