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Published: 5 February 2009

The Oasis Sports Centre in Holborn
Splash out on the Oasis Centre or lose it forever, council warned

While Prince of Wales Baths gets a £25m revamp, report reveals another pool is sinking fast

THE council-run Oasis Sports Centre – celebrated as one of London’s hidden architectural gems – must be given a major refurbishment or risk closure.
The New Journal can reveal how leisure chiefs have been warned that a list of problems at the popular centre in Endell Street, Holborn, includes ageing heating and electricity controls, broken fans and ventilation, and leaking pipes and tanks.
Several fittings and components have “passed expected replacement age” and in a final report to the council’s top brass, a team of outside inspectors have ruled: “In order to guarantee the continued use of the centre we would recommend that a major refurbishment of the building services is carried out within the next five years.”
It added: “The refurbishment would include the replacement of the majority of the building services. Some works to the internal building fabric will also be required.”
The report was compiled last summer but the findings are not made public unless requests are made to see them under the Freedom of Information Act.
Lib Dem leisure chief Councillor Flick Rea yesterday (Wednesday) pledged to rectify problems on a long-term basis but regular users of the centre, which boasts an indoor pool and an eye-catching rooftop lido, want even firmer commitments from the council that it will treat the Oasis with the same love and attention granted to the Prince of Wales Baths in Kentish Town.
There, faced with an ageing building, the council is undertaking a £25.3 million overhaul – one of the only attempts in Britain to revive a traditional Victorian pool and one of the most expensive schemes commissioned by the Lib Dem and Conservative coalition.
But the cost of the Prince of Wales Baths project has left users of the Oasis fearing their pool has become an afterthought, despite attracting thousands of people every week and enjoying a loyal user base.
Labour councillor Jonathan Simpson said: “The Oasis is one of the few places in south Camden that residents can go and swim but it is showing very serious signs of lack of care.
“Given that Kentish Town Baths is getting a gold star treatment by the Lib Dems, with Cllr Rea posing for regular photo opportunities where she pretends to be somehow working on the upgrade, it’s galling to hear the long-term problems that the Oasis is ­facing.”
The Oasis draws a mix of residents from across the southern neighbourhoods of Camden and workers in central London who use the ­centre to, as the name ­suggests, escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Judo mats, squash courts and saunas are among the attractions.
The centre has a bit of quirky history of its own: the old Bloomsbury Baths and Washhouse used to operate on the site, while during the Second World War, the London Fire Brigade used the Oasis as a water tank.
Madness singer turned TV presenter Suggs highlighted its popularity recently in his architectural television series, Suggs’s Survivors.
He recalled swimming there as a boy, adding: “It’s exactly what it’s called – an oasis in the middle of the city. When I went back to film I had not been there for 20 years and it is still something to behold.”
But the fading face of the Oasis has already been a bone of contention around Holborn and Bloomsbury, and the inspectors’ findings have come as no surprise to some of those most concerned.
Regular swimmer Mallory Wober, 72, who visits the centre twice a week with his wife, said: “Everything is a bit grubby. People tramp about with muddy shoes – it really is quite noticeable. The muddy water then gets transferred to the benches where people sit.”
He added: “The lockers are far too small, and my wife says the ladies changing room is cold. But it’s a great thing to have an outdoor swimming pool in the centre of London.”
Labour ward councillor Sue Vincent said: “There has been an enormous problem with both the state of the sauna and the women’s changing room for ages.
“The sauna has to be seen to be believed – it’s dreadful. I’ve complained vigorously to the management about the quality of cleanliness at the pool, the sauna and its facilities, including the sweaty squash courts.”
Cllr Vincent’s colleague, Councillor Julian Fulbrook added that he felt council resources were often slow to reach Holborn and Covent Garden – rushed instead to central and northern neighbourhoods.
“There have been endless complaints about the general squalor,” he said. “The changing room facilities at the Oasis are simply not up to cope with demand. This is yet another illustration of the “postcode targeting” of this Lib-Dim and Tory administration, which continually perpetuates a north-south divide in the borough.”
There has been no discussion about the future of the centre at any recent council meeting but the Town Hall suggested yesterday that talks over improvements had taken place.
No cost was mentioned but Cllr Rea said discussions were taking place with Greenwich Leisure Limited, which hold the contract to run the centre. She said: “The council is planning to make significant improvements to Oasis Sports Centre, which is likely to take place during the next six months. This will include work to the changing rooms and gym and improvements to the swimming pool.
“The programme of works and final details are still being discussed with GLL.”

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