Britannia Leisure Centre fire: Facility closed ‘for weeks’ – user says sauna ‘had been overheating for months’

Fire engines at the Britannia Leisure Centre. Picture: Polly Hancock

Fire engines at the Britannia Leisure Centre. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Users of Hoxton’s Britannia Leisure Centre “repeatedly” raised concerns about an overheating sauna months before the fire that has closed it for “weeks”.

Temperatures got so high the plastic around an emergency alarm melted, wood around the heater was “charred” and users felt their skin burning when inside, it is said.

Bosses at the Better-run facility will now be asked to “urgently” investigate the claims by the council.

The embattled centre had already been earmarked for demolition when the fire broke out on Monday evening, leading the building to be evacuated but causing no injuries to the 100-plus people inside.

One user told the Gazette the blaze was “to be expected” as there had been a “long history of massive neglect” to the sauna.

Fire engines at the Britannia Leisure Centre. Picture: Polly Hancock

Fire engines at the Britannia Leisure Centre. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

They said: “As a regular user of this sauna I have been very clear in repeatedly bringing the issues and its potential risks to the attention of centre staff.

“Only last week I attempted to meet with the centre manager to discuss these issues but staff could not locate him.”

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The problems, the user said, began last year when the temperature spiralled out of control and the internal thermometer and hygrometer broke and the heater became exposed.

“Nothing was done about this and lately the temperature has gotten much too high again, giving a sensation of burning to the skin and leading to most people avoiding this room.

The Britannia Leisure Centre on fire.

The Britannia Leisure Centre on fire. - Credit: Archant

“Despite this issue being repeatedly pointed out to staff no one seemed to understand the issue. In the last month the plastic surround of the sauna emergency alarm had melted and more planks of wood fell out.”

The centre underwent a controversial £300,000 facelift in 2016 despite plans, now approved, to flatten it and build homes, a school and a new leisure facility in Shoreditch Park.

But the user said none of the money was spent on the sauna or the health suite, and that users hadn’t approached the council about the issues for fear the place would be shut down.

Hackney’s leisure chief Cllr Jon Burke said: “Investigators are on site to assess the cause of the fire, so it wouldn’t be

Smoke coming out of the Britannia Leisure Centre.

Smoke coming out of the Britannia Leisure Centre. - Credit: Archant

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appropriate to speculate at this stage.

“Nevertheless, users’ safety is my utmost concern and, as such, I will raise the claims made by the customer with management at Britannia as a matter of urgency.”

Cllr Burke added: “The health suite has been gutted [by the fire] but the pool, gym, and sports hall remain largely unscathed.

“Unfortunately, there may have been damage to electrical cables feeding many parts of the centre, which now need to undergo extensive testing and potentially repair work. This could take several weeks depending on the level of work required but we are absolutely committed to reopening the centre as soon as it is safe to do so.”

The redevelopment project has been bitterly opposed by the Save Britannia group, which doesn’t believe the new centre will be good enough; opposes the loss of green space and the building of homes for private sale; and fears that financing the operation by selling luxury flats after the school and leisure centre are built is risky in an unstable housing market.

Hackney Council has repeatedly rebutted claims that the Britannia is in perfect working order. Mayor Phil Glanville said in 2017 it was “beyond repair” and “approaching the end of its life” unless £14m could be spent refurbishing it – which would require its closure for two years.

The Britannia is operated by Better, which holds contracts for a number of leisure facilities across London.

It comes months after Highbury Leisure Centre, another Better facility, caught fire. The damage was so bad the remains of the pool building had to be knocked down. It had been refurbished months earlier at a cost of £2.5m.

A spokesperson for GLL said: “The cause of the fire is under investigation and teams are working hard to get the facility reopened as quickly as possible.”