The plans for a £131m reconstruction of Finsbury Leisure Centre in Bunhill, including the addition of a new medical centre and approximately 200 homes (with 100 designated as council homes), have sparked worries among residents about overdevelopment and its impact on the densely populated area.
In order to move forward with the project, the council’s executive has granted additional funding for the pre-application stage, allocating up to £6.7m for fees and preconstruction costs, a substantial increase compared to the previous budget. They have also agreed to allocate an extra £2.65m for design stage fees, bringing the total to £4.25m. Additionally, a request for a £2.6m increase in the capital budget for fees is currently under consideration.
During a meeting, concerned campaigners voiced serious reservations about the proposal, particularly objecting to the construction of homes on sports pitches and the suggested creation of rooftop sports pitches as an alternative. They criticized the council for what they perceived as excessive development, emphasizing the negative consequences for the local community.
Matthew Ingram, representing the Finsbury Leisure Centre users’ group, argued that the council should prioritize renovating the existing facility rather than pursuing extravagant ambitions for the site. He labelled the plan a “massive overdevelopment of open space” and expressed the discontent felt by Islington residents.
Responding to the criticism, Councillor Diarmaid Ward defended the scheme, citing the pressing need for council homes to address the lengthy housing waiting list. While acknowledging the divergent opinions surrounding the development, he maintained that the proposed plan, featuring a new sports hall, squash courts, and a state-of-the-art gym, would significantly enhance the borough.
Residents shared their concerns about the project, particularly regarding potential privacy infringement caused by the rooftop pitches overlooking their living spaces. Harsha Chavda, a resident of Bunhill, urged the council to prioritize the well-being of residents and expressed unease about the escalating density of development near Old Street.
Council leader Kaya Comer-Schwartz assured residents that their concerns would be thoroughly considered during the planning committee’s evaluation of the scheme. Councillor Ward invited residents to visit Hackney’s Britannia leisure centre, which served as the inspiration for the plan, emphasizing the splendid views that the rooftop pitches could offer.
Eamon Gately, who oversees the City of London Football Club, raised questions about alternative pitches for the 150 participating children during the redevelopment. Councillor Ward assured him that no youth club would be left without suitable arrangements, suggesting the utilization of existing football pitches across the borough.
Francis Moss from the Better Bunhill Group expressed grave concerns about the health and environmental implications of the proposed scheme, particularly for children, young people, and schools. He urged the council to postpone funding for the project and explore alternative options that preserve the area’s green spaces, trees, and playing fields, which hold significant value for the community.
The council intends to conduct a fresh consultation on the scheme in September, with a potential planning application submission in January and construction commencing in November, pending approval.