The gym is open but is doing very little trade. It has been closing half an hour or so before the advertised time, presumably because no one is using it. Lambeth's own research showed that the gym is not needed. People who know about the market for gyms have been telling us all along that the location is wrong for a gym and that it will fail to cover its running costs.
Lambeth have made the gym even less appealing by charging a sky high subscription of £40 a month. The nearest comparable commercial gym appears to be Puregym near Camberwell Green. This charges £23 a month, reduced to £18 a month if use is confined to the less popular times, comprising weekends, early afternoon during the week and night time.
According to the senior ward councillor, Jim Dickson, Lambeth are due to consider the future of the gym 12 to 18 months after opening. They are bearing all the losses and there cannot be much doubt that they will close it. The interesting question is what will then be done with the windowless basement excavated at great expense. The rental estimates per square foot obtained by the Friends and the Council respectively are a mere £1.50 and £2.50, which is hardly worth the cost of letting and management.
Readers who have been following the history of this matter, will be aware that excavating the basement has been part of Lambeth's plans since at least 2011, though the reason for the excavation has never been disclosed. Possible uses for the basement, including a gym, were considered but all were rejected.
The excavation of the interior and underpinning carried out at great expense only begins to make sense if it is the first stage of a two-stage process. The second stage would be excavating externally and inserting windows in the basement. This would entail the loss of the front garden. But even if this were done it would not be a good reason to excavate the basement. The only plan previously disclosed by Lambeth which would justify the excavation is the one announced in 1999, that is, sale of the building for redevelopment as flats.
Other aspects of the recent work also suggest that those designing it are working towards a conversion to flats. Until a late stage Lambeth were proposing that the internal excavation would be only 2.7 metres deep, which would be enough for basement flats but obviously impractical for gym activities. Conversion to flats would involve building a large extension on the rear of the building and the Council appear to have eased the way for this by destroying as much as possible of the back garden.
We should be ready to campaign against any proposal to excavate the exterior because this would not only be objectionable in itself but also further step towards depriving us of the library.