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Islington Tribune - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Published: 12 June 2009
Be warned, demolition threat still hangs over Sobell Centre

• AS user representative for the Sobell Centre for more than 15 years, I was pleased to read Adrian Berrill-Cox’s letter (Sobell fit for purpose, May 29). I endorse his comment that “it will be essential for a close eye to be kept on any future plans”.
The Sobell is an essential resource for the community. It should not be seen only as a magnificent building housing a large range of sports facilities; it is also an invaluable community social venue.
This iconic building is perhaps Islington’s most powerful bulwark against the tide of gang culture, knife and gun crime and indeed obesity. It provides one way of countering these trends by offering all sections of the community, young and old, an alternative and attractive way of expending their energies and developing a healthy lifestyle.
When one of your family next reaches for the video game, suggests slouching off for more fast food or dons their hooded jacket late in the evening, please talk to them. Remind them of the top footballers and athletes they revere, tell them that they too can possess honed and fit bodies and point them in the direction of the Sobell.
From June last year onwards, three friends and I immersed ourselves in the task of representing the views of the great majority of Sobell users and residents by opposing the council’s demolition plans. My colleagues are Gordon Kerr, of England Squash, James Dunnett, a distinguished architect, and Peter Baird, an urban design expert.
We exposed the flaws in the crude consultation exercise that only permitted voting on different demolition options; revealed that a Scottish swimming pool was the basis for the council’s claims that experts had costed Sobell refurbishment at £46million (well under half this amount is nearer the mark); railed at the council’s assertion that demolition was somehow justified in the name of the 2012 Olympics; and obtained from a range of independent professionals the component costs of our suggested refurbishment programme. Two pools could be added alongside the existing building with a residential tower above that would largely finance this addition.
Since June last year I have been in touch with 5,000 centre users and residents. Most felt patronised and angered by the low quality of the consultation exercise. All but two want the centre refurbished or detailed and balanced consultation to be undertaken. Many believe that the council had already decided to demolish before the consultation exercise; indeed, this was admitted by senior council staff in the presence of MP Jeremy Corbyn at a meeting in June last year. The consultation exercise was therefore a sham.
The decision to demolish was affirmed on September 30 last year, based on council assurances that the business plan for demolition and redevelopment was “robust” and “in place”. Neither statement remains valid.
It is clear to me that the council’s recent reprieve of both Sobell and Finsbury leisure centres is a belated recognition of the unpopularity of demolition rather than a reaction to the current economic crisis.
However, the policy for demolition remains and residents’ council tax is being expended on continued research and background work.
All residents should demand the revocation of this policy. Refurbishment, based on work and costings agreed with community representatives, should be the new honest, popular and positive policy.
Sobell user representative

Send your letters to: The Letters Editor, Islington Tribune, 40 Camden Road, London, NW1 9DR or email to Deadline for letters is midday Wednesday. The editor regrets that anonymous letters cannot be published, although names and addresses can be withheld . Please include a full name, postal address and telephone number. Letters may be edited for reasons of space.

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