Angry parents, athletes and coaches have raised major concerns of the future of athletics in the area if plans for a new leisure centre at Broadbridge Heath go ahead.
Horsham District Council unveiled plans to build a new £12.3 million facility next to the current site last month and current users say they feel ‘ignored’ and ‘depressed’ with fears the current ‘unique facility’ will be lost.
Five different plans are currently available to view, with Option 3, which is emerging as the favoured by the council, not featuring anywhere near the standard of training options that now exist, in particular no provisions for the tube.
Many promising athletes from Horsham Blue Star Harriers, their junior group The Martlets, individual competitors, the Sussex squad and coaches currently use the indoor facilities to train.
The future of the tube - an indoor provision that includes a 60m straight, indoor pole vault, long jump and high jump areas - has been a long-term concern and the new plans omit its inclusion, despite showing a surge in usage over the past five years.
Official usage figures from Horsham District Council over the past five years, from when the project was first earmarked and omitted athletics, show a 50 per cent increase for the athletics track and the tube’s usage up a staggering 500 per cent with just under 5,000 users last 12 months.
‘I cannot understand why the needs of this promising athletics group is being overlooked’Keren Hannyngton
Blue Star parent Keren Hannyngton, 48, from Rudgwick said: “With plans for a huge redevelopment I cannot understand why the needs of this promising athletics group which has been based at Broadbridge Heath for years is being overlooked. If a redevelopment is planned why cannot we have an improved indoor training facility rather than none?
“It makes me so cross to see the needs of the athletics group basically ignored over other user groups and I cannot understand why - unless there is a hidden financial agenda?
“Why have the needs of the athletics club effectively been ignored in all the main redevelopment plans - the only option which ensures that the club does not lose the indoor training facility the tube is option one in the plans, which is to repair the existing facility.”
Keren’s daughter Ella, 12, is one of the club’s top athletes and is currently ranked number one high jumper at under-13 level in the UK as well as number two hurdler. Keren added: “After such a promising start we will be devastated if the tube is lost as there is no doubt it will have a huge negative impact on Ella’s ability to train locally and reach her potential as a promising athlete.”
The centre currently has a six-lane track outside, as well as the five-lane indoor training track with a jump area, of which the next nearest is in Sutton.
Sussex League coach and member of the national coaching programme Steve King trains athletes multiple times a week at the centre and has described it as the ‘Sussex hub’ saying its loss would be disastrous.
He said: “The local council are not in the slightest bit interested and do not see it as a centre of excellence as they are not interested in elite sports and there are a lot of myths running around.
“I have been travelling for 25 years to come here as it is a unique facility and if it goes I am stuffed!
“There are a lot of things going on in there that you cannot do anywhere else. I have seen places where the pole vault equipment is just locked away for the winter where there is no indoor facility, how are you meant to practice and improve?
“It’s depressing because a lot of people spend a lot of time developing the sport and the council are not really listening to want we want, instead they want to build one generic sports hall that does not really suit anyone.
“I see it as the Sussex hub and without it, it will have a severe detrimental effect on the standard of the sport.”
Coach Kim Milnthorpe said: “The tube is the envy of all clubs in our county, it allows us to continue throughout the winter in events such as high jump, hurdles, pole vault, long jump.
“The tube is unique the only one of its kind in the county something Horsham should be proud of rather than being tossed by the wayside without its true potential being truly realised.”
Blue Star chairman Keith May concluded that he fears the council have already made up their mind despite the public outcry and added: “Baring in mind in 2012 in the first plans, they were doing away with the track completely, we were fighting for that let alone the tube.
“That has changed and the track will stay at the moment, but we do not know long term. Losing the tube will have a huge impact, but the council are just not prepared to move on that. They do not see replacing the tube as a priority. We are keen to keep it, but it is tough as the council are adamant they are not going to replace it.”
Elspeth Turner, who is a member of Blue Star Harriers and works for England Athletics was involved in starting a campaign four years ago to preserve the facilities at Broadbridge Heath, which has resulted in the track being saved.
She said: “Original there were no plans to keep anything there not even the track and with an extra 4,000 homes being built it did not stack up with what they were planning had we not intervened. With that many houses it needs more facilities not less.
“From England Athletics point of view, as well as wanting to see athletics prevail for the local region, if people are coming from Hastings and Southampton to train at it, then it must be a good thing for the usage of the facility.
“Our best hope is that they make previsions for indoor athletics and keep the outdoor facility which they have said they will do. If the outdoor track stays then we would like to see the indoor facility, either the tube as it is or other plans to accommodate indoor athletics in the new plan.”
Adrian Morris, 46, from Loxwood, added: “I am concerned that the extent of the benefit to the local community of both the outdoor and indoor athletics facilities at Broadbridge Heath are not fully understood.
“There is an increasing cohort of youngsters, including my daughter Sophie, inspired by London 2012, who are progressing through the junior clubs to represent Horsham Blue Star Harriers in their age groups. The Olympic legacy is alive and well in Horsham, something which we should be very proud of.
“How could we explain to the hundreds of our kids using the Broadbridge Heath facilities, the logic behind reducing the facilities available?”
On the recently-released usage figures that show a surge in usage for athletics at Broabridge Heath, chairman of the leisure centre joint usage group, Paul Kornycky added: “These figures again fully vindicate the campaign to have a district leisure centre at Broadbridge Heath. In particular they show the importance of the indoor and outdoor athletics facilities and their significantly increased usage.
“As the HDC plans emerge, we will continue to press for all facilities to be re-provided/maintained on an equivalent or better basis on the same overall site. We will resist any attempt to downgrade or relocate them. The rapidly growing community of Horsham District deserve first-class sports and leisure facilities which they have demonstrably shown they will value and support.”