COMMENT: Key cabinet members believed to be working through weekend to amend leisure centre plans

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By HEAD OF NEWS Mark Dunford. KEY members of Horsham District Council’s Conservative cabinet are believed to be working through the weekend to amend their proposals about the closure of Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre due to be considered at the full council meeting on Wednesday.

The deliberations will be lead by the cabinet member responsible Jonathan Chowen as well as caretaker leader Ray Dawe.

They will hope to stitch together a package that will be accepted by their backbench Conservative colleagues at a private meeting on Monday so that a united front can be presented on Wednesday.

Many backbenchers are furious with the cabinet - which now stands largely isolated within its own party - at the way the whole closure issue has been handled.

They feel they were not properly consulted from the outset, that the whole issue has been rushed, that public opinion has not been fully evaluated, and that it has been a public relations disaster.

Worse than that they are appalled that there appears to be no formal business case in place to justify the way forward.

They would want to see fully costed options for maintaining the status quo - repairing and maintaining the current facility; establishing a new state of the art facility in the west of Horsham with the current centre only decomissioned when the new one was ready; or in the very worst case closure but with real safeguards.

They will also want to see evidence of the real commercial value of the current site.

The proposal that will finally be hammered out is expected to include a debate on Wednesday to resolve the leisure contract. But many want the motion which calls for closure on Wednesday to be dropped pending a full and formal business appraisal of the project with all alternatives considered.

If they adopt that route then it is likely to be May before the council reaches a decision. By then, a new leader will be in place following the shock resignation of the previous leader Robert Nye this week.

And a new leader is likely to put in place a new cabinet - and one that will want to look afresh at all the issues surrounding the leisure centre.

This is good news for campaigners seeking to save the leisure centre - because despite tough financial pressures on the council, many key backbenchers believe the council must be responsive to the needs of the electorate and maintain its reputation for providing excellent services as efficiently as possible.

But there will be competing pressures too.

So Monday’s private meeting will prove critical.

The County Times has been lobbying hard both through its columns and outside the newspaper, to ensure that the view of residents is properly taken into account and that all the financial evidence for closure is in place and fully understood before any decision is taken.

But the paper has also been clear that it is not seeking credit or wishing to claim some kind of “victory”. Any change of heart will be due to the Conservative councillors themselves - and they should get the praise for it if that is the route they choose to adopt.