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Coronavirus Kent: Sevenoaks council says new Swanley leisure centre to go ahead despite outbreak

The completion of a multi-million pound leisure centre redevelopment remains a "priority" for a council amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Sevenoaks District Council's cabinet member for finance, Cllr Matthew Dickins (Con), vows to press ahead with £20m plans to construct the new build on the site of Swanley's existing White Oak Leisure Centre.

An artist's impression of how the new leisure centre might look (Credit: Alliance Leisure)
An artist's impression of how the new leisure centre might look (Credit: Alliance Leisure)

His comments come hours after next week's finance advisory committee was cancelled last week due to public health fears, where councillors were expected to rubber-stamp contract tendering to a building firm and leisure operator.

Cllr Dickins said: "Although Tuesday’s meeting is no longer proceeding... the council remains committed to ensuring residents benefit from this significant investment in Swanley and its delivery remains a priority.”

The major development has been split into three phases, starting with the construction of the new leisure centre, still scheduled to begin this May, followed by the creation of a new build and car park by May 2022.

Up to 40 apartments will then be built on the Hilda May Avenue site as part of the final phase, varying between one, two and three-bedroom flats. If approved by full council next month, they will be two to three storeys high and include on-street parking.

A decision to knock down the 53-year-old leisure centre comes after the building was deemed to be "reaching the end of its serviceable life" due to its age and condition.

Cllr Matthew Dickins
Cllr Matthew Dickins

Cllr Dickins, who is also the council's deputy leader, added: "My colleagues and I are determined to ensure Swanley receives a new, modern leisure centre which meets the needs of the community."

Sevenoaks council's plans will see the creation of a "modernised" multi-use sports hall, along with a 100 station fitness studio and spin space. It will also include a larger 25m community pool, which has six lanes and is two metres deep. There will be seating for 100 spectators.

A learner pool, soft play area and cafe will be built, alongside a Changing Places area for people with disabilities and a 'feel good' studio for those needing help in becoming fit. There will be parking for 144 cars and coaches.

Swanley councillor Jackie Griffiths (Lab), 70, said she has long opposed the development, adding that she was sad that White Oak was "coming to the end of its life". She visited the centre when it first opened in 1967, at the age of 17.

But, Cllr Griffiths welcomed the decision to postpone the meeting, saying: "The council should not be gathering numbers together, we need to be thinking of how to cope with the virus."

A 3D image of the proposed feel good studio (Credit: Alliance Leisure)
A 3D image of the proposed feel good studio (Credit: Alliance Leisure)

Sevenoaks council bosses are expected to push ahead with the £20m plans at the authority's next cabinet meeting on April 16 - at the town's Argyle Road offices - before a final decision is made by full council on April 21.

Around £8million will be financed through borrowing. Council bosses expect this to be paid off through £7.6m of income generated by the upgraded leisure centre over the next 15 years - equates to around £508k a year.

Up to £11m will be financed through selling off council assets in Swanley, including properties on Alder Way, Russett Way and the town's High Street.

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