Labour fear ‘back-door’ deal at sports centre site

Concern over possible development after £16.5m purchase of building next door

Friday, 1st April — By Tom Foot

paul dimoldenberg

Paul Dimoldenberg: ‘So people are asking: how can the council commit £16.5million to a development where that development proposal hasn’t been set out, even in outline?’

COUNCIL chiefs have been urged to come clean about plans for the Queen Mother Sports Centre following the acquisition of a £16.5million block next door.

Labour “called in” the cabinet’s decision on March 15 to approve the purchase of the former Parkinson’s UK charity headquarters in 215 Vauxhall Bridge Road, Pimlico.

Opposition councillors fear the purchase is part of future schemes to redevelop the sports centre with a “tall and bulky” construction despite similar proposals being rejected following a backlash from residents in 2016.

Labour’s Hyde Park ward candidate Paul Dimoldenberg told a council meeting: “People believe that you are trying to go forward with a scheme by the back door, by acquiring the site next door, for £16.5million.

“Some people might say that money could be better spent on other things. You are going ahead with a plan that has already been slated by residents in the past, and you are doing it in the run-up to an election without coming clean about proposals.

“So people are asking: how can the council commit £16.5million to a development where that development proposal hasn’t been set out, even in outline? How do you answer those people living cheek by jowl to those living next to the centre?”

Westminster City Council has long held an ambition to redevelop the Queen Mother Sports Centre, with a mix of private and affordable housing.

More than £70million has been set aside in the city council’s capital budgets from 2027 onwards, the meeting heard.

The council said it made sense to buy the building despite not having any concrete plans for the site to stop it getting into anyone else’s hands.

The building’s owners, the charity Parkinson’s UK, put the site on the market last year.

Council cabinet member for finance and smart city Paul Swaddle said: “We are purchasing the building to add to our assets. In the future it would allow plans to develop the site. That will not be planned and discussed until there’s some budget for it.

“It prevents someone else from getting the property. If I had a plan it would be much easier to leave it till later.”

When asked why this decision was being taken during the pre-election “purdah” period, he insisted: “This is a long-standing property investment decision. It’s been through an independent panel who were unanimous it was an excellent decision. If we do not purchase this property it will severely limit what we can do and prevent any improvement to that site in the long term.”

The Queen Mother Sports Centre, which opened in 1981, is run by Everyone Active.

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