New contract for Finsbury leisure centre worries residents

The contract to manage a flagship leisure centre after its multimillion-pound overhaul has been handed to a rival of the charity that runs the rest of Islington’s facilities.

Ironmonger Row Baths in Finbury is to be run by Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) rather than Aquaterra when its �16million refurbishment is complete.

The news has prompted fears that the borough’s leisure services will be broken up, although Islington Council has sought to reassure residents that passes will cover all centres.

Sheila McBirnie, 56, secretary of the tenant management organisation on the nearby Pleydell estate, off Radnor Street, said: “I am extremely concerned about this separation from the rest of Islington’s leisure facilities.

“Even if we can still use our members’ cards, there are rumours that this will only be temporary. And at the very least, Ironmonger Row will be opened to cheaper use and access for a lot of people who are not Islington residents, and it was already a very busy pool.

“Seeing as how the renovations have been funded by Islington ratepayers to the tune of millions, I don’t see how this is fair or how it benefits local residents.”

Ms McBirnie added that staff she had spoken to were worried the decision could spell disaster for Aquaterra, which was set up to run leisure services in Islington, as its overall contract is up for review next year.

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Aquaterra described the decision as “disappointing”.

Cllr Janet Burgess, Islington Council’s executive member for leisure, said: “We want to help residents enjoy healthy, active lives, and the new Ironmonger Row Baths will be a wonderful facility for our community.

“I can reassure residents that leisure passes will be valid at all sites.”

Ironmonger Row Baths closed for refurbishment in May 2010 and the work was supposed to be finished in time for the Olympics, but the reopening has been pushed back to October at the earliest. It will house two pools, Turkish baths, a gym and a public laundry.

A spokesman for GLL said: “We anticipate that users will predominantly come from within Islington and are confident that there will not be any overcrowding or access issues for local residents.”