Hackney's Clissold Leisure Centre has closed, and may not reopen for two years - or ever.
Is this some decaying Victorian facility that has provided decades of service but is finally past its natural life? No, it is a brand new, state-of-the art, showpiece leisure centre which Hackney Council showed off around the world. It is not so boastful now.
You can read more details in the Guardian 7 February and the Evening Standard 17 February. But the long and short of it is that design flaws have left it unusable and dangerous. Amongst other things, the roof can not cope with rain! It would be comical if it were not so serious.
Clissold Leisure Centre was built at a cost which steadily grew (eventually to £31m), and at the expense of other, long-standing facilities in the Borough. Haggerston Pool and London Fields Lido remain closed, and Britannia and King's Hall regularly close temporarily due to disrepair. That is the sum total of public swimming in Hackney. (See previous articles on Hackney's pools here and here.)
Urban regeneration 'strategy' often, in practice, means paying over the odds for one showpiece facility, whilst other centres in local communities are left to rot. Something similar happened to Hackney's library service. Seven libraries closed in 1996, to be 'replaced' by a new, central Technology and Learning Centre (TLC), which is far less accessible to people who find it difficult to travel around the borough. But at least the TLC is still open.
The Clissold's closure is perhaps an unusually dramatic failure, but its impact is even worse because the rest of Hackney's sports and leisure facilities had been neglected in its favour.
There is a danger that in a Borough notorious for its municipal scandals and incompetence, this latest outrage will prompt only shrugs and tutting. We can not allow this to happen: the situation is a scandal, and an affront to public health and recreation in a working-class borough.
Hackney Council is obviously a little embarrassed, but is quite breathtaking in its attempts to pass the buck. Mayor Jules Pipe assures us that the Council will be taking action against "whoever is responsible for this". Well, that would be Hackney Council, wouldn't it?! Our New Labour Council seems to believe that if it contracts out a service, then it also contracts out the responsibility.
Oh no. Local councils have to provide services, leisure facilities being one of them. From education to housing, local services are being handed over to private companies or 'arms-length' bodies precisely so that the local authority can avoid taking responsibility. The danger for Mayor Pipe and his colleagues is that people will start to ask why, in that case, we bother having a Council at all. Which could open the door to those in Whitehall who would strip local government of its few remaining powers.
We urge Hackney residents to draw the opposite conclusion: that they should get rid of the charlatans who currently infest the Town Hall, and elect in their place genuine socialist representatives of our working-class communities.
* You may want to check out NOT THE clissold leisure centre, a website run by some local residents.