The Festive Gallery: The politics of Purley Pool

By - Thursday 18th December, 2014

‘Twas the week before Christmas and down south of the borough, Tom Black was researching and being quite thorough

Hark! The Angels Cannot Swim

Croydon Council has confirmed that Purley Leisure Centre, colloquially still known as ‘Purley Pool’ (we Croydonians are suckers for alliteration), is to close after a long period of dilapidation. The pool has been in a dire state for some time, with some local residents choosing to travel to the nearby – but still further away – Waddon Leisure Centre instead. Broken showers lead to long queues for those that are still operational, and broken lockers mean valuables are left by the side of the pool, with swimmers periodically interrupting their strokes to make sure they’re safe. One user I spoke to described the atmosphere as “deeply unpleasant”.

Croydon Labour – which runs the council – has used the Waddon Leisure Centre as a justification for the closure. Cabinet member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, Tim Godfrey, pointed out that it’s less than two miles away from a pool that many already travel to by car or bus anyway. Fair enough, perhaps, but if Purley Pool closes, what about the school and groups that use it? Different groups use the Waddon pool already, so there is a severe risk of overcrowding and – eventually – a reduction in the number of schools that can offer swimming (which is legally problematic). One Purley school has already had to earmark more money from its own budget to hire buses to take its pupils to Waddon, after years of quite happily using Purley.

I Saw Chris Philp Come Leafleting (on Christmas Day, on Christmas Day)

The Croydon Conservatives are on the attack, as regular readers will have come to expect: after a quiet summer and then the Fisher resignation, the Tories have got their bite back in the last few months, and are snapping at the Labour administration’s heels at every opportunity. New Conservative council group leader Tim Pollard is not exactly at the forefront of these efforts, however, with most of the heavy lifting being done by the Croydon Conservative parliamentary candidates: for example, Gavin Barwell’s numerous petitions to save x or stop y (even when x or y may or may not be actually happening).

Chris Philp, Conservative PPC for Croydon South, has taken the lead on this one, leading a protest against the closure outside the pool. When asked whether he would now review his support for the coalition government’s austerity cuts, which have made the reduction in local government spending necessary across the country, he did not respond. But the Conservatives have been happy to point out that New Addington is getting a new £17 million pool, at a time when the number of pools in the south of the borough is reducing by one…

Ding Dong, North-South Divide

The Conservatives are not stopping there. Campaigning in Croydon South is a bit like feeling the need to top up the Atlantic Ocean, but word on the grapevine is that they are now extending their ‘Save Purley Pool’ leafleting campaign to southern parts of the much more marginal Croydon Central, where Gavin Barwell is hoping to stay on. Residents in Fairfield and Forestdale are known to make use of the pool itself, so would make a juicy target for the campaign.

The rhetoric of the local Tories is the usual affair: Labour ignores the south of the borough – where they don’t win any votes – and prioritises the north where they win lots. The centre gets some help too when there’s an election coming up and they need to swing the marginal (New Addington is in Croydon Central). The intellectual problem with this argument is that the direct opposite can be said to be true for the Conservatives: they help the south, and ignore the north.

In both cases, it’s too broad a brush. Both parties have carried out initiatives outside their heartlands – not to ever do so would be ridiculously unsubtle and would get them caught out fairly sharpish. But it’s still a fairly accurate summation of our borough’s north-south divide. ‘A tale of two cities’, some call it.

Good Tidings We Bring, To Barwell And Kin

The problem for Labour is that ‘the Tories do this too’ is not an acceptable response to these allegations. For starters, the Conservatives aren’t in power at the moment in Croydon, so no-one is about to turn on them and demand that they be held to account. And crucially, accusing others of doing something you’ve been accused of yourself is effectively an admission that you’re doing it. Saying ‘yes, we neglect areas of the borough that don’t vote for us’ is not something that a smart politician says five months before a general election.

The fact remains that neither party in Croydon has its nose clean in this regard. But after a tough few months for the Conservatives, they have a clear advantage in this case – one that may leave them feeling exceptionally jolly as campaigning pauses over Christmas. ‘Tis the season to be Tory.

Next Thursday is Christmas Day, so if  you want to read about politics then, I’m afraid you’re a bit of a weirdo. The Public Gallery will return in the New Year. For piecemeal thoughts and updates on Croydon’s politics between now and then, follow me on Twitter.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Sean Creighton

    The Tories should say what they would cut to keep Purley Pool open. Will Labour have to consider more cuts now that the local government settlement for 2015-16 has been announced today by the Conservative led Government? If Purley Pool needs capital spend, then can that sum be shaved off the New Addington Pool budget? What are the implications of closure for the Council’s responsibilities with regard to public health, well-being and equalities and inclusion if they close the Pool?

  • David Callam

    Of course the council can find the money to make Purley Pool safe until it does a deal to provide the long promised new pool at Coulsdon.
    And it should do so as a community act as well as a political one.

  • nmakwana

    Good article. It surely would be cheaper to renovate an existing pool than build an entirely new one (New Addington). The argument that the Waddon leisure centre is ‘just down the road’ as stated by Newman is a false one as that is clearly not true for residents of Selsdon or Coulsdon who find the Purley pool convenient. However, agree with Sean, as it would be enlightening to hear what the Tories would cut instead of the pool (please don’t say Purley library – it is shockingly poor, due to lack of funding no doubt)