We don’t want sports pitches on roof say Bunhill residents

Town Hall bosses were asked to pause “grandiose dreams” to put football pitches on the roof of a replacement leisure centre and build 200 new homes which residents fear is “overdevelopment”.

By Julia Gregory, Local Democracy Reporter

the words 'keep bunhill open' projected on Islington Town Hall
Better Bunhill protest against leisure centre development on Islington Town hall. Photo: Better Bunhill

Town Hall bosses were asked to pause “grandiose dreams” to put football pitches on the roof of a replacement leisure centre and build 200 new homes which residents fear is “overdevelopment”.

Islington’s executive of senior politicians approved extra funding for the pre-application stage to work up their plans for a £131m scheme to rebuild Finsbury Leisure Centre in Bunhill, complete with a new medical centre and nearly 200 homes, including 100 council homes.

Diarmaid Ward, executive member for finance planning and performance, said the much-needed council homes would help desperate families on the housing waiting list.

The council’s executive agreed to up to £6.7m fees and preconstruction costs – an increase in £2.8m from the previous budget.

They also approved an extra £2.65m in the budget for fees at the design stage of the scheme, taking it up ot £4.25m.

They will also consider a request to sign off a £2.6m increase in the capital budget for fees.

This means the budget for the concept design stage of the scheme has increased from £1.6m to £4.25m, with an extra £2.4m in borrowing.

However campaigners told the meeting they had serious concerns about overdevelopment and the impact on a densely developed part of the borough.

The scheme includes building homes on sports pitches and creating roof tp sports pitchs instead.

Matthew Ingram from the Finsbury leisure centre users group said: “Rather than spending a modest sum renovating the existing leisure centre, the council is indulging in grandiose dreams for this site. They are becoming locked into a massive overdevelopment of open space.”

He said: “It’s a terrible deal for residents of Islington.”

Cllr Ward responded that there are “very strong views on both sides” about the proposed development. There are residents who welcome this development.

“Every single one of us is contacted by families in desperate need. There are 14,000 households on the register.”

He added: “I think this is a great development for the borough, with a new sports hall, squash courts and a state of the art gym.”

He said he would not apologise for building new council homes.

He stressed the council will run a new consultation on the plans in September.

A planning application could be submitted next January, with work starting in November, if it wins approval.

One resident spoke about her fear of overlooking.

“The rooftop pitches will literally be in our living rooms and our bedrooms,” Bunhill resident Harsha Chavda told the executive.

She said the prospect was causing residents stress and she asked the council to consider their wellbeing.

Councl leader Kaya Comer-Schwartz said those issues would be considered when the scheme comes to the planning committee.

Cllr Diarmaid Ward invited residents to visit Hackney’s Britannia leisure centre which has inspired the plan.

“I am excited that the rooftop pitches will have stunning views.”

Chavda said there was no comparison with the Britannia site, which is in a park, and the densely populated area in Bunhill.

She said the proposed housing and replacement leisure centre “will be at the epicentre” of development in the area near Old Street.

Eamon Gately runs the City of London Football Club with sessions for 150 children and quizzed councillors about arrangements for alternative pitches whilst any redevelopment work goes ahead.

Cllr Ward pledged “to work with you to make sure no youth club loses out.”

He said there are football pitches across the borough which could be used.

Cllr Ward said whilst the proposed new football pitches will be smaller they are compliant with the Football League guidelines.

Francis Moss from the Better Bunhill Group wrote to the executive saying residents have “serious concerns about the health and environmental impacts of the proposals, especially for children, young people and schools, of the loss of green space, trees and playing fields in an area which is the most densely populated in Islington.”

He said: “The centre and playing fields are a key part of the local area and well used by children and schools. Evidence from other leisure centres demonstrate that putting playing fields on the roof will not work for many of the current school, sports clubs and residents needs.”

He urged the council to postpone funding its proposals and spend the money on an alternative scheme instead.

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