Kevin Rye, from Save Skating in Streatham, explains why he’s campaigning against proposals for the ice rink to be temporarily moved to Pope’s Road in Brixton
‘Streatham Hub’. Two words that strike fear into the hearts of Lambeth Council. The project that is supposed to regenerate the site of the old Streatham ice rink has been a long-time coming, and it has got people in Brixton and Streatham rather hot under the collar.
Indeed, had you been shopping in Brixton Market last Tuesday you would have noticed that the usual fruit and veg stalls were replaced with rivers of plastic sheeting and protest signs from a group opposing the development. The group includes a wide range of interests, from high-street chains, individual businesses and concerned residents, to organisations such as Friends of Brixton Market and Transition Town Brixton, to The Brixton Society and Brixton Market Traders Federation.
It all emanates from the ‘Streatham Hub’. Tesco bought the site of the current Streatham ice rink almost ten years ago and in 2001 agreed to develop a ‘Hub’ with new leisure facilities, a new supermarket and 250 new homes. But last year, Tesco indicated it might not be able to follow through on the plans, in particular building a new ice rink. In they end, they agreed to provide a temporary ice rink between the closing of the old one and the opening of a new one. The big question now is where that temporary rink will be situated. Lambeth Council has proposed the site of a car-park in Popes Road, Brixton, which is deemed vital both by the council itself (in a 2003 Cabinet document) and desperately needed by traders (whose turnover is down 50% while council rents are up a similar amount).
But this plan is in direct contravention of the Section 106 finally signed in December 2008 by Tesco, after years of wrangling. In fact the deal was pretty much tied-up in December 2004, but Tesco have something of a reputation of dragging their heels.
The S106 – ‘community kickback’ as it’s sometimes known – guaranteed ‘continuity of provision’ on the current site of the rink over the period that the new combined rink and leisure centre was to be built. Ken Livingstone as Mayor at the time had insisted on this, and so the deal contained clauses that forced them to build the rink and leisure centre first before anything else.
This would guarantee against the precedent set in Richmond, when a property developer (quelle suprise) bought one of the most famous rinks in the country, paid the Council £2.9m to remove similar guarantees (in excess of £5m in today’s money), then knocked it down, built flats and that was that.
But Tesco came crawling back to the council pleading poverty just three months after they signed the S106 and the idea of a temporary ice rink on Streatham Common was – ridiculously in my opinion – put forward. HOOC (Hands Off Our Common) pointed out that the word ‘Common’ actually meant something, and Brixton soon emerged as the favourite.
The big question that I keep coming back to is quite simply: why does a multi-billion-pound turnover business sign off a deal to develop a site it knows is going to cost ‘x’ amount of pounds during deep financial crisis and a period of collapsing property prices, and then ‘suddenly’ realise three months later that they ‘can’t afford it’? Don’t forget thatwhen they got the council to agree to this ‘relocation’ of such a vital element of the site, Tesco also slung in an application to expand the store space by another 56%.
I’ll make a suggestion. This is about Tesco building one of the biggest stores they’ve got. It’s about sewing up the grocery market – and increasingly non-food items – from London to Brighton; most of all, it’s about them ensuring that they earn the maximum return for their shareholders.
And I’ll suggest to you what it isn’t about: it isn’t about communities being provided with the facilities they need; it isn’t about the continuation of one of London’s most well known and oldest leisure and sporting venues.
No matter what Lambeth say about this development, it’s all about Tesco earning money, Lambeth not having enough, and the council trying to do this ‘deal with the devil’ to make sure it gets a project finally built that’s been on the drawing board for years.
In South London alone in recent years we’ve lost Streatham Bowling Alley, Catford Dogs (Greyhounds), Plough Lane (Football), Richmond (Ice Skating). We no longer have speedway at Wimbledon because the track owner decided it didn’t suit their business plan – the famous Wimbledon Dons now race in exile.
I’m no Nimby, really, but London is in danger of turning into a giant housing estate-cum-supermarket chain.
I’m one of many thousands of people in Brixton and Streatham who is no longer going to sit back and witness this particular story play out. And it’s in my power as a local resident to make sure Lambeth don’t make a total rickets of a very simple proposition. And it’s in yours too.
I haven’t even gone into the aggressive behaviour by Lambeth Council officers towards Streatham residents and ice-rink users; or their scandalous treatment of a local councillor – throwing her out of a meeting (a local authority legal expert said he didn’t know how to deal with the incident off the top of his head as ‘this has never happened before’); or the frankly odd behaviour by Tesco – convening meetings with Streatham businesses without telling local councillors.
Whether or not you like ice skating, whether or not you shop in Brixton, if nothing else I hope the behaviour alone of Tesco and Lambeth makes you sit up and take notice.