HC Deb 05 January 2004 vol 416 cc11-3
8. Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)(Con)

What discussions she has had on the future of Crystal Palace sports centre. [145834]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn)

Owing to the constituency interest of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in respect of Crystal Palace, I am dealing with this question.

I discuss Crystal Palace with the chairman and chief executive of Sport England on a regular basis. On 26 November, I also attended a meeting with the Mayor of London, the chairman of Sport England and representatives from the London borough of Bromley to discuss the matter.

Mrs. Lait

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, and I understand the Secretary of State's difficulties with this issue, which I am sure he will realise is directly a constituency interest of mine. He will be aware that, on 18 December, his colleague Lord McIntosh stated: It is likely that the closure of the centre for redevelopment under the discussions that are currently taking place will form a part of any agreed solution."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 December 2003; Vol. 655, c.181W.] I have recently received a copy of a letter from Colin Kirkwood, a former president of Beckenham swimming club, to the Mayor of London. The letter argues that the pool at Crystal Palace should not be shut before any new facilities are in place. I urge the Minister to give me some assurances about that, because the centre is crucial for high-performance athletes and the nearest Olympic-size pool is situated in Dunkirk.

Mr. Caborn

The hon. Lady raises a number of questions. First, there is an agreement that Sport England will withdraw from the deal on 31 March 2004. Bromley has known about that agreement for a considerable period, and that is what we are working towards. We would want to keep the facilities in operation, and we believe that the proposition made by the Mayor of London to take over their running, which is part of the discussions and negotiations that are currently going on—I hope that they will be successful—will see their continuation. Although there may be redevelopment in terms of the track, we hope that that can be decoupled from the sports facilities so that we can continue to run the athletics grand prix this year.

I say to the hon. Lady that, unless that is done by the end of January, it will be very difficult to run grands prix here. My Department is working hard with the Mayor and other Departments to try to achieve that objective. I want the track to continue and I would like to see a new facility. Community usage is now at more than 80 per cent. Sport England is there not to run facilities, but to take a strategic overview for sport. The running of facilities is for local authorities, the private sector or joint ventures.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)(Con)

Does the Minister recognise that the work that he is seeking to do to try to broker a deal, if I can put it that way, to keep Crystal Palace open is crucial in terms of the prospects for our Olympic bid? Not only do many potential future Olympians use Crystal Palace as their training base, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) said, but most unfortunate signals would be sent if Crystal Palace were seen to close. I know that he cares about the prospect of the Olympic bid as much as me, and, I am sure, hon. Members in all parts of the House, but will he recognise that, as part of the Government's job of leadership, it is vital that we do not see chains and padlocks on Crystal Palace at the end of March?

Mr. Caborn

We are working very hard to ensure that those padlocks do not appear. As part of the wider Olympic bid, we are considering proposals for an aquatic centre that I hope will provide the type of 50 m pool facilities to which he is referring. Indeed, that is being discussed not only at a community level in the sport, but with the governing body, the swimming association. That process will continue to ensure coverage throughout the country in terms of such facilities. On Crystal Palace, we will continue to try to ensure that a deal is done, and we will try to ensure that the athletics grand prix also takes place. That three-way deal will have to be done. I understand from Sport England that we have continued to support the facilities in Bromley way beyond any other facilities for community use. A decision should be made by the end of March.