Plans to renew and rebuild several buildings in Kingston’s riverside town centre have been announced by the local council as part of a scheme to transform and diversify the area for the years to come. As part of the proposals, the Kingfisher Leisure Centre, Cattle Market Car Park and the Guildhall campus will be renovated and modernised in a move which the council hopes will “diversify Kingston’s local economy beyond retail” and to “ignite a vibrant leisure and cultural scene.”

 The much-loved Kingfisher Leisure Centre has been closed since before the current pandemic, after routine maintenance in December 2019 revealed that the structural integrity of the roof was compromised.  The centre provided a gym, rooms for events, exercise classes and a swimming pool which was utilised by local schools as well as the public, but the council in October 2020 decided against pursuing repairs and permanently closed the site after it emerged that the roof would require a complete replacement, which would take around 18 months and cost the tax payer an estimated sum of over £5 million to complete. Concerns were raised regarding the overall quality of the building after extensive survey work and Caroline Kerr, Leader of Kingston Council, announced that it was a possibility that “new problems” may be discovered further down the line. In its place, a brand-new, modern community leisure centre will be built on the same site, with the council having already committing to include a swimming pool and a separate teaching pool, and possible new additions include a climbing wall, modern gym and sports courts, in addition to renovations to the nearby library and local museum.

 This announcement by the council will likely encourage those who relied on the centre for exercise and social events, especially considering the limitations on sport and gathering in the last year, and also to alleviate the concerns of residents who had grown weary of the surveying process, which had been delayed due to coronavirus. The Kingston Independent Residents Group had set up a petition to save the Kingfisher and criticised the council for their handling of the closure, claiming that residents had been left in the dark and that the council should “come clean on the situation.” The Liberal Democrat dominated council has faced scrutiny in recent times by residents, especially surrounding planning decisions. It emerged in April 2020 that Mike Kiely, Kingston Council’s Interim Planning ‘Transformation’ Lead, was recorded claiming that it might be “a good thing” that members of the public, some of whom he labelled “excitable” and later went on BBC World Tonight on Radio 4 to say that members of the public “shouldn’t participate in” planning committees.

 Additional plans to renovate the Cattle Market Car Park, which hosts a market every Monday, and to make better use of the Guildhall, which displays the ancient Coronation Stone where seven Anglo-Saxon Kings were coronated, where also shared as part of the same announcement.

An interactive digital survey has been opened to the public using the Kingston: Let’s Talk platform where residents can give feedback and share their views on what they would like to see in the renovation plans.