Campaigners are fighting to save an Orpington leisure centre which faces demolition if a major residential development is approved.

Developer Areli Real Estate is proposing to partly demolish the Walnuts Shopping Centre, on High St, making way for around 900 flats across four residential blocks, the tallest reaching 19 storeys.

Walnuts Leisure Centre, which has a 33-metre swimming pool and gym facilities, would be knocked down under the proposals and rebuilt on a smaller scale, integrated into the new residential development.

A petition created by David Swift, signed nearly 1000 times, reads: "Walnuts Leisure Centre is currently housed in a purpose-built two-level building, constructed in the early 1970s.

News Shopper: A view of how the development could look from Homefield Rise (Areli Real Estate)A view of how the development could look from Homefield Rise (Areli Real Estate)

"It has stood the test of time and today it serves as a community hub, offering affordable services and amenities to children, adults and senior citizens.

"The new leisure centre that Areli (the developer) is offering will be smaller in terms of square footage, housed on a couple of floors in one of the towers.

"Yet Areli's proposed plans will bring 2000 new residents, which will add to the pressures on the membership capacity of the Leisure centre.

"We fear being priced out of our leisure centre."

Concerns have been raised about the future of the O'Jays swimming club, which requires the pool to be rebuilt at a similar size to allow competitive meetings, and deep enough for competitive diving.

The proposed replacement swimming pool is 25 metres in length, but lacks sufficient pool-side space to allow competitions to take place, the petition claims.

News Shopper: Indicative view of the entrance to The Walnuts (Areli Real Estate)Indicative view of the entrance to The Walnuts (Areli Real Estate)

Areli claims the proposed pool has been designed with input from Sports England, and that spectator seating will enable the centre to host competitions it was unable to previously.

Addressing concerns that residents will be left without vital facilities for around two years while works are taking place, Areli stated that the wider scheme will be delivered in phases, allowing the leisure centre to remain open for as long as possible.

The developer is leading the project on behalf of global investment company Tikehau Capital, which acquired the shopping centre in 2019 for more than £30m.

The new leisure centre, currently run by mytimeactive, will be owned and operated by Bromley Council.

Residents have previously objected to the scale of the £500m development, which they claim is incongruous with the Orpington skyline, and argue the density of flats will create a burden on local services.

The developer submitted a planning application towards the end of 2021. It is yet to appear on Bromley Council's planning portal.

Construction could begin later this year if the application is approved. 

A spokesperson for Areli said: "The £500m regeneration plans for The Walnuts will be the most significant investment in Orpington for generations including a new state-of-the-art leisure centre, day care centre, 535 jobs and an estimated spend from new residents of between £10.5-£13million per annum, supporting local shops and businesses.

"The majority of responses (75%) to our public consultation agreed the leisure centre requires much needed refurbishment.

"The leisure centre proposals, which have been designed with Sport England and in accordance with their guidance, will re-provide a new 8 lane 25m competition swimming pool with spectator seating, enabling Orpington to host licensed swimming competitions which it cannot now due to its current dimensions.

"The existing pool is a 6 lane facility, therefore, the new 8 lane pool will provide the same water space as today.

"Another major benefit of the new centre is that it will be a purpose built, energy efficient building, reducing the ongoing maintenance costs and ensuring the future of the facility for the long term.

"The new leisure centre will be owned by London Borough of Bromley and operated accordingly.

"We have worked closely with LB Bromley in preparing the leisure centre proposals and by providing a new state of the art leisure centre, accessed directly from Orpington Square, with all the benefits that a modern building brings.

"By putting the new leisure centre right in the heart of the town centre it ensures that it is accessible and used by as many residents as possible.

"The wider scheme will be delivered in phases and we will minimise the time that the leisure centre will need to be closed."

A spokesperson for Bromley Council said: “The council has received a planning application for the redevelopment of The Walnuts Shopping Centre, which includes proposals for a new modern, purpose-built leisure centre that would be used by local residents.

"The formal consultation as part of the planning process will soon begin, which will allow interested individuals and residents to share their views on the proposals, to be considered in determining the application.

"As part of the land is owned by the council for this development, a final land agreement will also be required at some point for these proposals to proceed.”

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