Letter: Olympic legacy

I RECENTLY wrote to Jeremy Hunt (Con, South West Surrey), Minister for Culture and Sport, regarding the possible closure of Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre.

Here, for your readers’ information is a reply from his department. Obviously it is of no concern that in Olympics year we are possibly going to lose the centre for no good reason.

Dear Diane,

Thank you for your letter to the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP about the proposed closure of Broadbridge Heath Sports Centre in Horsham. I have been asked to reply on his behalf.

Whilst we understand your concerns, the unprecedented public sector deficit means that all parts of the public sector will have difficult decisions to make. Local government accounts for 25 per cent of public expenditure so they will need to do their bit.

The issue of local authority spending priorities is not a matter in which the Government can intervene, as local authorities will know most about the best way to run their services taking account of the impact on local people.

Local authorities are democratically elected organisations, and as such they are independent from central Government and are responsible for their own finances. This means that spending decisions are for individual councils to make.

We want every community to have access to as wide a range of sports facilities as possible, and we are keen to make sure these facilities are open to all. However, sports and recreation facilities are delivered by local authorities, and locally elected representatives are best placed to judge the needs of the people they serve.

As you may know, there is a national planning policy in place covering sports and recreation facilities. This policy is quite detailed but, in short, it looks to local council planning to protect such facilities needed by the local community.

More information about the National Planning Policy Framework, a draft of which the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) recently consulted upon, will simplify the existing suite of planning policy documents and be localist in its approach; handing power back to local communities to decide what is right for them. You may be interested in the new Framework, more information about which can be found at the following link:

http://www.communities.gov.uk/planningandbuilding/planningsystem/planningpolicy/planningpolicyframework/

Also, you may be aware that the Localism Bill, introduced to Parliament on 13 December 2010, was given Royal Assent on 15 November 2011, includes provision which will enable the listing of assets of community value. You may also be interested to note that groups interested in the possibility of taking over council-owned sports facilities can get practical help from the Sport England website at:

www.sportengland.org.uk/support__advice/asset_transfer.aspx

It is worth contacting Locality and the Plunkett Foundation about good examples of community groups who have successfully taken over private and public assets for community use. Contact details for both organisations are: Locality: Tel No: 0845 458 8336 or email: info@locality.org.uk and Plunkett Foundation: Tel No: 01993 810730 or email: info@plunkett.co.uk

You may be interested to know of Sport England’s fund for the improvement and provision of sports facilities with Places People Play; more information can be found at the following website: http://inspiredfacilities.sportengland.org/

I know that Sport England has recently launched a Community Sport Asset Transfer Toolkit to help community sports clubs tackle this complex area. The toolkit was developed in collaboration with the Asset Transfer Unit (ATU) and will provide clubs with a step by step guide through each stage of the asset transfer process. Sport England are also working with Running Sports to develop resources to support asset transfer that are aimed specifically at volunteer-led clubs.

All of these developments will help open up the process to both established community sports organisations as well as new groups who believe they can put unused or underutilised sports facilities and public assets to better use. The ATU can be contacted at: Tel No: 0845 345 4564 or email: info@atu.org.uk

I hope that this information is of some assistance to you.

Neil Paragreen

DIANE SHAW

Bens Acre, Horsham