Save Britannia Leisure Centre campaigners say the council is “acting as though it has already made its mind up” to tear the building down – after it this week released the first pictures of its replacement.
The Town Hall wants to create a new leisure centre, 400 luxury flats and a permanent home for City Academy secondary school on the site of the existing facility near Shoreditch Park.
Britannia underwent a refurbishment last year at a cost of £300,000, but Town Hall community chief Cllr Jon Burke says it would need a further £14-17 million to bring it up to standard.
On Monday, the Town Hall splashed a mocked-up picture of the new facility, which it hopes will be ready in 2021, on the front page of its freesheet, Hackney Today.
Cllr Burke said he hoped people were as “enthusiastic about the plans as we are”, while a press release said “further details about the school and housing will be released soon”.
But Save Britannia Leisure Centre campaigner Pat Turnbull, whose petition opposing the plans has reached nearly 4,000 signatures, said: “The council presents these drawings of a possible replacement leisure centre with a certainty that they surely cannot feel.”
A planning application for the scheme is still to be submitted, with the council hoping to have it finalised by “spring 2018”.
But Turnbull says the release of the new pictures is another example of the council “underplaying” plans for the accompanying 400 homes and school, adding: “On 26 and 31 October the council held two sessions to show some updated plans.
“The only people invited were the 35 who had attended one or more of their four workshops in July. The display boards at those two sessions finally showed an artist’s impression of the redeveloped site with the school and the tower blocks.
“Even though the drawing underplayed the height of the tower blocks, it confirmed our worst fears.
“Whereas we currently have the unobtrusive Britannia building and its rather attractive car park with a lot of grass and fifty trees, we would have a concentration of dense and tall buildings.”
Turnbull says this drawing now seems to have disappeared: “It is not on the council’s web site. It is not among the drawings of the leisure centre just released. Is this not deceiving the public?
“Out talking to people, they are shocked to discover the true nature of the development proposal, because the council’s message has primarily been that people will have a lovely new leisure centre.
“What people do not realise is that the view for neighbouring residents and the nature of the area will be totally altered.”
One of those local residents is Michael Jones, who has lived in the neighbourhood since he was four years old and can still see his old primary school from his window – “not for much longer though”, he says.
He has lodged numerous complaints about the “terrible” Britannia proposals, but he says they are falling on deaf ears: “I’ve written to my local MP, my local councillors, the headteacher of the nearby school. No-one wants to hear it.”
Jones has a council flat in Bridport House, and he says the multitude of towers going on around him has left him in ill health – he blames the “noise and pollution from constant construction work”.
Directly opposite him is an imposing new tower block full of high-end flats, with another under construction right next to it.
Jones says another 11-storey block is about to crop up around the corner, and that’s before he gets on to the Britannia proposals.
He added: “I can just about cope with the building opposite, although it’s bigger than I thought it would be and blocks a lot of my light. But the three towers the council wants to put up with this new leisure centre – that is the final straw.
“I’ve lived here all my life, but if these plans go ahead, I’ll be forced to move.
“I used to get loads of light here, and I could point out the block where I grew up. Now I’m living in darkness and the places I use to see have been crowded out by these massive towers cropping up around me. It’s tragic. I don’t want to live in a concrete jungle.
“But the council is acting as though it’s already made its mind up. There’s no mention of the towers going up, or the school, just glossy pictures of a swimming pool.”
Cllr Burke said: “While the existing Centre might just look a bit tatty, beneath the surface, the truth is more serious.
“Estimates for bringing the building up to a standard well below the newly-proposed facility are in the region of £14-17m, and we would need to close Britannia for up to two years while such works took place.
“We would also then be left without a site for the desperately-needed new secondary school. Instead, we’re committed to providing a much better leisure facility, and will not need to close the existing Centre until the new one is ready.
“In working with architects to design the new Centre, we’ve taken on board feedback from existing users and the wider public, through more than 100,000 leaflets delivered to local residents and around 20 public engagement sessions.
“I hope people will be as enthusiastic about the designs as we are, and we look forward to sharing more details about the rest of the site in due course.”
Swimming facilities are a hot topic in the borough at the moment, with London Fields Lido still out of action after numerous delays, and plans for the derelict Haggerston Baths site to go ahead without the pool demanded by campaigners.