Whatever their merits as sporting facilities, the swimming pool and Mayflower centre had little connection with the park. The large buildings were poorly situated and intruded on vistas whilst their drab elevations made an ugly backdrop for a green space setting.
As the buildings deteriorated and maintenance burdens increased, replacement options started to be investigated from 1990 onwards. It proved extremely difficult to find a solution that would do justice to the park’s landscape while meeting other requirements and the schemes presented for consultation in 1991 and 2001, which were largely based on re-providing existing facilities and included commercial opportunities, met strong opposition from individuals and groups wanting to preserve the park.
In November 2006, a consultation version of the Area Action Plan presented a radical proposal to combine the swimming pool and sports hall facilities into a single new building on Pellow’s Field, and to restore the previous sites as parkland. It too prompted concerns about the loss of greenspace, not only because Pellow’s Field was well used for games but also because Cottage Field was shown as lying within the development boundary.
Detailed proposals for the Life Centre followed when a planning application was submitted in 2009. With a much clearer idea of the proposed development, responses were overwhelmingly supportive with just a handful of people still objecting that it would be detrimental to Central Park.
After years of argument, the new build started in 2010.
With its completion in 2012 and the demolition of its predecessors, it became clear that the Life Centre’s park-facing frontage would draw a strong line of defence against any future loss of greenspace. In use, this favourable aspect has undoubtedly encouraged many more visitors to come into the park and, typically, families can be seen visiting the children’s playground having used the Life Centre’s facilities.