Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by Friends of Marshall Street Leisure Centre, Soho




  Westminster City Council issues a planning brief for the Marshall Street Leisure Centre and Poland Street Car Park. It is believed that planning began as early as 1993.



  Council invites expressions of interest from property developers and leisure operators. Initial appraisals concluded that the leisure centre would require cross-subsidy from the car park/office/retail development.


  Decision made public—temporary closure announced for August.


  Petition of 4,000 signatures raised urging Council to keep the Centre opened until planning permission and finances agreed.

  Friends of Marshall Street formed committed to:

    —  re-opening of the Centre as soon as possible;

    —  to the general public;

    —  at affordable prices; and

    —  retaining the original architectural features.

30 August

  Friends organise "naked protest"—hockey team carrying goal posts through the streets chanting "Save Our Pool".

31 August

  Centre is closed.

  Council promises re-opening in "18 months to two years".


  Council agrees minimum service requirements.

  Benchmark plc appointed as "preferred developer" for the site. Negotiations with other developers discontinued. Press criticism that an ex-Director of Planning for the Council is now a director of Benchmark—adjacent sites have been acquired by Benchmark prior to their appointment.



  Public exhibition reveal plans for 7 level underground car park, separate entrances for public and private users of the leisure centre and plans to turn the second pool into a private gym and café.

  Council admits that public consultation was "inadequate".


  Second public exhibition held of plans, supported by leaflet distribution and consultation sessions. Plans are not altered since January.


  Public meeting.

  Results of consultation published:

  "Redevelopment proposals largely supported . . . principal issues identified by the consultation are:

    —  concern to re-open the centre as soon as possible;

    —  that services should primarily be for members of the public;

    —  concern for children's facilities and re-opening of the small pool; and

    —  concern for the leisure centre's future."


  Friends organise Street Party to mark the first anniversary of the closure.


  Council withdraws from Benchmark deal "a viable scheme could not be achieved". Reasons believed to be: public concern over part-privatisation of the Centre, residents' concern over car park and threat to local recording studios from construction work.

  Labour Councillors call for inquiry into Benchmark "fiasco"—cost of consultation exercise estimated at £100,000.

  Council begins negotiations for separate development of leisure centre and car park.



  Leisure Centre contract awarded to Vardon—plans still include replacement of second pool by private gym and segregated facilities for private members and the public.

  Friends express grave concern over "apartheid" with the public being treated as second class citizens.


  Cannons given Council approval to develop Centre as part-private health club—estimated opening in 2001.


  Friends organise "Queue for the Pool" to mark second anniversary and the date that the Council promised the Centre would re-open.



  It is announced that a survey has revealed additional problems with the roof structure which are likely to add £2 million to the redevelopment cost. Cannons declare commitment to project if the Council funds the additional £2 million.

19 January

  Council declares it cannot fund the development and withdraws from negotiations with Cannons. The Centre is to close "for the foreseeable future".

19 January

  English Heritage announces it is placing the Centre on its register of "Buildings at Risk".


  Press reports that the sale of property owned by the Council could generate up to £60 million. Labour Councillors claim that up to £30 million could be spent on leisure centres and libraries without breaking Government spending limits.

  Leader of Council writes, "I am not optimistic. It would be wrong of me to raise your hopes of any imminent solution to the use of this site".


  Friends present petition of over 1,000 signatures deploring the Council's lack of progress and calling for a re-opening.


  Marshall Street included in The Independent's Guide to the Best Swimming Pools in the World.


  Friends mark the third anniversary of closure by making Michael Palin and Roger Deakin Honorary Patrons.

  Vice Chairman on the Environment and Leisure Committee at Westminster Council is reported as saying "The building has come to the end of its life . . . I personally would like to see another leisure centre in Westminster".



  Notices on the Centre explain that the Council is still seeking solutions. It apologises for any inconvenience.

4 December 2001

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Prepared 15 January 2002