Gazette letters: Britannia Leisure Centre and the budget on Hackney

Existing Britannia Leisure Centre. Picture: KEN MEARS

Existing Britannia Leisure Centre. Picture: KEN MEARS - Credit: Archant

Last night, the Britannia Development Scheme was due before the planning committee, writes Pat Turnbull, Save Britannia Leisure Centre.

The council has now published the viability study. It does nothing to convince us this scheme is a good idea.

A full refurbishment of the Britannia Leisure Centre, giving it 20 more years of life before it needed more major work, would cost £17.5million – the council’s figure. The council reckons there will be a shortfall on the overall Britannia scheme of £70m which it will have to contribute – we believe it is more like £90m. £50m is to be spent on consultancy fees alone.

But there is much worse financial risk – and all of it to the council, as the developer. At the end of Phase 1 – replacement leisure centre, school, “affordable” housing – the carried deficit will be between £111m and £132m. By the end of Phase 2, the council’s financial exposure will be between £341m and £362m. Only then will the council start to sell the private-for-sale flats which fund the scheme – if it can, in a chancy market.

All the weaknesses of the scheme still stand, including:

• 481 dwellings of which 400 are luxury housing for sale. Only 48 are social rented, with the rest being shared ownership – the council’s own policy is for 50 per cent “affordable” housing, and yet more luxury housing will drive local housing costs up still further;

• a building – the replacement leisure centre – on designated open space on Shoreditch Park, creating a dangerous precedent;

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• serious loss of daylight and sunlight to the projected academy school, Colville Estate and homes round about, arising from towers 25, 19, 16 and 10 storeys high;

• a school where the council’s own figures show it is not needed;

n public transport issues in relation to the 1,200-pupil school and the mass of new dwellings, especially at a time when the Hackney bus service is being cut;

• at least six years of demolition and construction – more noise, vibrations, dust, truck movements to add to those which have been disturbing local residents and are to continue on Colville Estate and other developments round about.

We are asking Hackney Council to think again and call a halt to this harmful development.

The budget was by and large a good one, but I have two detailed criticisms, writes Christopher Sills, Dunsmure Road, Stamford Hill.

The first is the chancellor did nothing to tackle the problem that business rates have for large retail businesses, although the relief for small businesses is to be welcomed.

When groups like Debenhams and House of Fraser start closing stores on large scale then it is time for the government to ask itself how it can help. I know the rise of the internet is part of the problem, but another problem they face is continued rise in business rates, whereas their internet rivals pay only very small amounts. At the very least business rates should be frozen until a long term solution to the problem is found.

All tax increases cause problems for those who have to pay, but the change to capital gains tax on former owner occupied homes is in danger of causing real hardship to individuals divorcing breaking up from long-term relationships because some individuals will face a large capital gains tax bill they would not have had before

One partial solution might be to exempt divorcing couples from the change, but then raises the problem of what to do about the breakdown of other forms of long-term relationships.

Fortunately the change does not come into effect until April 6, 2020, which gives the government time to look into the practical problems for individual people and either modify the change or better still scrap it.

These changes will inevitably reduce the amount of money the treasury receives and therefore I must suggest ways of covering the cost. I believe the overseas budget can be reduced as Britain is the only country that spends so much on overseas aid as a proportion of GDP.

Finally the government is giving councils more money to spend on potholes, but it must ensure it is spent as intended and not on schemes to harass the motorist as Hackney Council does. Councils that abuse the extra money must have their grant reduced.