LETTER: Amazing new 21st century facilities

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It is exciting because the evolving consensus between councillors, officers, sports clubs and the public is that the provision of a brand new £12.3 million leisure centre will increase the capacity of the site and extend its scope and appeal.

The new centre will be able to accommodate new activities such as basketball, volleyball, handball, climbing and indoor cricket whilst improving provision for badminton, dance, fitness gym, 5-a-side football, gymnastics, keep fit, table tennis, trampolining and a number of other activities.

The new leisure centre would incorporate and enhance the indoor bowls facility, whilst its linkage with new outdoor facilities on land south of the site will see the provision of five all-weather multi-use games areas, a new football pavilion, football pitches, a skate park and kick-about-area. In addition the outdoor athletics facility will be retained for track and field sports.

It is, however, accepted that there will be a loss of a specialist facility that exists at the current centre in the form of a large indoor running track. I fully appreciate the disappointment of indoor track users, especially those seeking to train to elite level who value the facility particularly for training in wet weather, however the cost of replacement cannot be justified for the small number of users. This particular facility is expensive to retain or replace and in its own right does not make a significant contribution in terms of sport usage and income to meet the running and replacement costs of the overall leisure centre.

In developing the current proposal a number of factors were considered. Currently the indoor running track provides for about 20,660 attendances per year, of which 59 per cent are actually for activities other than athletics and which can be equally or better accommodated in other parts of a new centre.

Athletes in the district will still have the ‘all-weather’ track and field facility, with further opportunities to have access to the track once the football club is relocated. It is accepted that not providing the indoor track represents the loss of a specialist facility but this does not prevent the nurturing and developing of local talent.

High profile neighbouring athletics facilities such as the K2 Centre in Crawley, Withdean Stadium in Brighton and the Worthing facilities do not have indoor facilities and continue to develop and coach athletes that perform at high levels.

It is also considered that the new leisure centre proposal will mean it will be possible to accommodate users, in particular children, within the main hall and provide a competitive element through sports hall athletics sessions. Although this by no means replaces the current indoor track, it does mean that athletics in the district continues to remain well catered for.

All users of the sports centre and athletes will have use of the amazing new 21st century facilities all year round and some elements of the new centre will offer improved facilities for some parts of training and exercise programmes for all types of sports including athletics.

For instance, the new centre will have extensive modern facilities and equipment including 80-gym stations (100 per cent improvement), a new cycle studio, a sports hall double the existing size.

The new leisure centre will be much more flexible than the current one, with three studios, some with sprung floors, and additional first class facilities for coaching, training and sports treatment. While the disabled activity provision will be replaced with new facilities. This will all be achieved with continued availability of the current centre until the new centre opens in 2018.

So while some users will suffer some detriment through this proposal and as a result may have to change their training practices, we feel this group is relatively small and still well catered for.

We hope that they, like many new users, will take advantage of the improved opportunities the new centre will offer. We expect to see new sports and the numbers using the centre increase from 200,000 to over 400,000 during the first four years after a new centre is opened.

This is a huge change from four years ago when it was proposed to close the leisure centre and athletics track because of its high running and maintenance costs. At that time the country was going through an incredibly worrying financial crisis.

During the intervening years, needs have grown, especially here in Horsham, with demand for sports and leisure facilities increasing from new housing and a need for healthier and fitter lifestyles.

Finally I would like to thank all those residents, the parish council, and the sporting community for all their time and effort in championing their different causes over the last four years.

It has been challenging, but it has helped enormously in our deliberations and has without doubt influenced the whole project.

JONATHAN CHOWEN

(Con, Cowfold, Shermanbury and West Grinstead) Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture, Horsham District Council, Chart Way, Horsham

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