The end of the four year term of Horsham District Council is nigh. Do you recall that barely six months into its life, in November 2011, the HDC Cabinet unanimously voted to recommend eradication of the BBH Leisure Centre, despite the adopted West of Horsham (WoH) Masterplan clearly stating ‘An expansion of the Leisure Centre is necessary as a result of the development in this location’.
As justification we had the Leisure Futures Study, commissioned on a verbal brief at significant cost, allegedly concluding it was ‘surplus to requirement’ with ‘ample capacity elsewhere’. There was ensuing uproar over this ‘dodgy dossier’ followed by the resignation of the leader, Robert Nye, and there followed a three and a half year (ongoing) struggle with the users and wider community demanding ‘equivalent or better’ facilities.
Today, despite pledges from the current leader, Ray Dawe, on his inauguration to give its resolution ‘highest priority’, we still wait to hear whether a new facility will be built or perhaps the old building can indeed be remodelled and refurbished.
Crucially, we still don’t have confirmation as to the facilities included nor do we have any guaranteed commitment to meet the very reasonable and well documented user requirements that evolved from the victorious ‘People’s Option’.
Remember that this saga originated from the HDC Cabinet’s desire to clear all sport and leisure facilities from the land owned by HDC at the BBH Quadrant site in order to strike a lucrative deal for retail development with (apparently) as little as possible spent on replacements.
In the BBH Quadrant Supplementary Planning Document even national planning law (NPPF 74) which strictly protects such sites from inappropriate redevelopment was ‘played down’ to try & facilitate this dastardly plan. Fortunately this strategy has now been invalidated by the demise in value of retail space and the widely accepted need to protect the vibrancy of the Town Centre from out-of-town development. Encouragingly, at long last, the health & wellbeing of the community does seem to be taking priority; but what will happen after May 7?
As we approach the district council elections, we have heard the views of political groups and independents on many subjects; housing strategy, Gatwick 2nd runway, hospitals, fracking etc. but what is their commitment to maintaining our district sport & leisure facilities, especially at Broadbridge Heath? Will they commit to the WoH Masterplan and NPPF74 to give us equivalent or better?
Remember that the current ruling party made no mention of their ‘slash and burn’ approach in their 2011 ‘manifesto’ literature so we must be very cautious about ‘silence’.
The BBHLC Joint User Group (BJUG) have continually pressed for real engagement in the project that will (hopefully) eventually deliver these much needed ‘replacement’ sports and leisure facilities.
Realising that these things take time, we even published a set of principles under our ‘Equivalent or Better’ policy, to guide matters, but we have had no formal acceptance of these. Our fears remain that decisions could be set in stone before we have chance to influence them (sounds just like district councillors debating pre-determined cabinet decisions at a council meeting!).
So, come on candidates and parties, tell us what you think about this valued service provision and what you would like to see done to finally resolve it. Will you keep/improve the Gym, Exercise Studios, Indoor and Outdoor Athletic Tracks, Tennis Courts, Sensory Room, Badminton/Sports Halls, and Cafeteria etc. and will you guarantee facilities for HAODS to continue to thrive?
Will you provide BBHFC with their promised Pavilion and Pitches and will you retain the Indoor Bowls Hall for HDIBC? Or, will you meekly hide behind the often uttered weasel words ‘these are discretionary services’?
At least please tell us the end won’t be Nye (sic)!
BJUG Deputy Chairman
Cox Green, Rudgwick