Greenwich Council sinks to new depths of incompetence over Hornfair Lido

Greenwich Council has admitted that it gave away a 99 year lease on the Hornfair Lido but its organisation then had to buy it back as a cost of £125,000 prior to development this summer. 

At Call-in meeting called last Wednesday by Conservative Council Group Leader Spencer Drury was to check whether an extra £125,000 being allocated to the project represented value for money.  The £125,000 was in addition to the quarter of a million pounds already allocated to the scheme by the Council and £2m from Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) as part of its contract with the Council (and so also paid for by council taxpayers). 

The Call-in took the form of a comprehensive review of the new plans for the Lido which had not been placed in the public domain until this meeting.  The last time the Lido was discussed in public was in October 2009 when the Council claimed that a private company (Open Waters) were going to spend in excess of £10m adding a diving centre to the Lido and making it an ‘iconic resource’.  Conservatives had raised concerns over the lack of credibility of the Open Waters plan from the start and in meetings received guarantees that the Council would be able to retrieve the lease to the company if they could not deliver on their commitments.  However, at Wednesday’s Call-in answers to questions from Cllrs McCarthy and Glover made clear that despite the fact that the Council had given Open Waters the lease for free, GLL had been forced to pay around £125,000 to buy back the lease from the company.

On Saturday, ex-Kidbrooke with Hornfair Councillor Graeme Coombes visited the Lido, where work on GLL’s plans has already begun.  Graeme said “I am appalled at this waste of Council taxpayers money.  I was assured by Council Officers that should anything go wrong with the Open Waters bid (and it was distinctly fishy from the start) it would not cost any money to retrieve the lease.  Now, we find that Greenwich Council is having to pass an extra £125,000 to GLL, which almost exactly matches the cost of buying back the lease from Open Waters.  In this case, Greenwich residents have paid the price of the Council’s incompetence not only in monetary terms but also in the closure of the Lido in recent years.”

Conservative Group Leader Cllr Spencer Drury, who called the meeting on Wednesday said “I was generally pleased with the realistic and achievable plans which GLL has for the Lido.  It should be open this summer and with luck in 2013 will have a fully operational gym and café in addition to the pool itself.  The pool will also be heated which will be something of a relief for those of us who swam there previously.  The Conservative Group on the Council is generally supportive of these plans although we regret the time and expense that it has taken to bring them to fruition.”

Spencer continued “One curious feature of the plans is that the Lido will be made shallower.  The existing pool has a 3.6m deep end but this will be reduced to 2m and half of the pool will be level at 1m.  This means that the Council is gaining the equivalent of a full 25m pool with 1m depth, which does bring into question the reasoning behind the two shallow ends proposed at the new ‘Heart of East Greenwich’ pool.  Surely this space will be enough for all those who wish to enjoy aquarobics in the borough.”

UPDATE (30th April):  It now appears that the situation may be worse than we initially thought we 853 reporting that the lease actually cost GLL £175,000 to buy back from Open Waters.  I imagine Council Officers made the mistake after being asked on the hoof at the Call-in meeting.  This means that the Council's decision to give the lease to Open Waters for free has cost this borough's residents either through raised taxes or through higher fees at the Lido £175,000 purely to buy out a diving firm which did not seem to go anywhere near any water.  What a farce!