Under the new plan, the new Gurnell would see the range of fitness and wellbeing facilities massively expanded, ensuring that it meets modern standards.
The proposals outline a range of options for how a new leisure centre might be delivered on the site. Built in the late 1970s, the existing centre is now past its expected lifespan. It was closed at the start of the first COVID-19 lockdown, and reopening it has proved unviable as it is structurally unsafe. The proposals being considered would see the existing dilapidated structure demolished whilst plans for its replacement are developed and agreed by the end of 2023.
Listening and acting on the feedback
After a previous proposal for a new centre at the site was rejected by the council’s planning committee in April 2021, because the residential towers were too high, the council has undertaken an extensive listening exercise, including an in-depth survey of local people in June 2022.
The Gurnell Community Sounding Board, made up of representatives from a diverse range of interested groups and centre users as well as ward councillors, was formed to provide a way for community and leisure stakeholders to play a role in planning the future use of the site. Based on information presented to it, the board reached two important conclusions:
- That there must be a leisure centre at the site.
- That the existing building cannot be refurbished, as doing so would be prohibitively expensive and would not offer enough environmental or social benefit to justify the cost.
Alongside this, the council appointed architects Mikhail Riches and GT3 to consider options for the future of the centre, which included a feasibility study. The study resulted in five options for the brief for the replacement leisure centre, at a range of sizes and costs.
While the council have adopted a retrofit-first approach in tackling the climate emergency, extensive feasibility work has established that a new building would have a less impactful carbon footprint than attempting to maintain the energy inefficient existing building.
Keeping costs as low as possible
Given the pressure on council budgets, each option considers how to provide outstanding leisure facilities while reducing the impact on the council’s budget as much as possible. That means that some of the cost must be offset by the development of new homes on the site, of which at least 35% will be affordable. In each case, this would need to be supplemented by some council borrowing.
The current preferred initial option would cost an estimated £45 million and would incorporate the land where the existing centre and its car park sit. The plans for the site which were rejected in 2021 included a 17-storey tower, but in the preferred option, the tallest building will be up to a maximum of ten storeys, with somewhere in the region of 200 to 300 homes in total. These early plans are still in development and will only be further progressed after detailed conversations with the Community Sounding Board and with residents.
The decision being made at the council’s cabinet meeting on Wednesday 22 February will enable more detailed design activity to take place, with an application for planning permission due to be submitted by the end of the year. It includes an agreement to release £2.5m to fund further planning activity, as well as to carry out the demolition of the existing, unsafe leisure centre building.
“The conversation does not stop here”
Councillor Peter Mason is the leader of Ealing Council. He said: “Ealing’s young people, families and future athletes deserve a world-class modern swimming and leisure centre, and we remain committed to delivering a new Gurnell where residents can stay fit and healthy, both mentally and physically.
“The previous proposals for Gurnell simply did not work, and were not good enough for Ealing. Since we took the decision to start from scratch, we’ve heard a broad range of opinions on Gurnell, both from last year’s big public engagement and from establishing the Gurnell Community Sounding Board. We are clear that there is a growing consensus that the future of the site has to include a brand new, state-of-the-art leisure facility with a 50m swimming pool, but without an extra rise in council tax to pay off the debt and high interest rates of unnecessary borrowing.
“So we’re doing exactly what most residents who expressed their view suggested - we are proposing a mixed model where some of the cost of building a new centre is funded by also building new homes to either rent or sell at the site. As with all new housing developments in the borough, we will ensure that the scheme delivers at least 35% affordable homes, and every effort will be made to ensure the natural environment is protected and local biodiversity is retained and improved.
“We know that not everyone is going to agree. But we also know that we are all going to need to make some compromises if we are going to get the doors of a new Gurnell open soon. The conversation does not stop here. We are at a very early stage and no final decisions have been made about the design of the scheme, and as an open, inclusive and transparent council, we will continue to work with local residents and the Community Sounding Board on the detail of the proposals.”
“A new leisure centre that we can all be proud of”
Councillor Shital Manro is Ealing Council’s lead member for good growth. He said: “Brexit, the cost-of-living crisis, and rocketing interest rates have all made this project more challenging, but we are determined to deliver the outstanding facilities that residents have told us they want to see at Gurnell.
“An independent assessor found that the cost of fully refurbishing the existing building to extend its life would run into the region of £18 million. With no means of offsetting the cost, that would be a huge amount of money to find after years of austerity which have seen the government cut our budget by 64% since 2010. With the agreement of the Community Sounding Board that the old building must go, we can now focus on building a new centre instead.
“We want to ensure that residents have a say in big local decisions like this and a loud voice in shaping the future of their communities. We will continue to work with them to deliver a new leisure centre that we can all be proud of.”
“The facilities that the borough needs”
Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles is the chair of the Gurnell Community Sounding Board. He said: “I am really pleased with the progress we have made so far on the future of Gurnell and look forward to continuing to work with Ealing Council to deliver the leisure facilities that the borough needs.”
Dave Heathcock is head coach at Ealing Swimming Club. He said: “Ealing Swimming Club agrees with the conclusion that the best option for the future of the Gurnell Leisure Centre is demolition, and we are looking forward to working with Ealing Council to develop plans for a new, state-of-the-art leisure centre. Ensuring that the future of leisure from participation to Olympian within the borough will be a positive and inclusive one”.
Mikhail Riches and GT3 Architects were appointed by Ealing Council to explore the feasibility of options for the site and to develop plans for a mixed-use leisure and residential development. Mark Gowdridge is the director of GT3 Architects. He said: “The new Gurnell will be full of the latest technology and design ideas. Working alongside Mikhail Riches, we will bring leisure and housing together into one exemplar sustainable masterplan, engaging with the site’s unique surroundings and sensitive to its parkland setting. We are excited to be working with the community to ensure these aims and objectives are met, creating a truly unique destination for the people of Ealing”.
The council’s February 2023 cabinet papers can be found here.
The Gurnell Community Sounding Board has met on four occasions since May 2022. Standing invitees include representatives from:
- Anti-Tribalism Movement
- Brent River & Canal Society
- Drayton Community Association
- Stop The Towers
- Ealing Matters
- Ealing Skatepark
- Ealing Swimming Club
- Empowering Action (EASE)
- Everyone Active (Operator)
- Featherstone School Sport Partnership
- GLL (Operator)
- Gurnell Grove Residents Association
- Pitshanger Community Association (PCA)
- Pitshanger Village Traders Association
- Save Gurnell
- Sport England (Sports Planning)
- Swim England (Facilities Development)