Plans for a new £12.3m leisure centre for Broadbridge Heath were approved by the council’s Cabinet last night (Monday November 23).
Almost four years exactly since Horsham District Council announced it was closing the facility and not providing a replacement, its executive agreed to press ahead with the construction of a new leisure centre.
Jonathan Chowen, HDC’s deputy leader and cabinet member for leisure and culture, explained that at the time they were offered a ‘very significant figure’ of £20m for the land and could have pocketed the money to ‘protect the district from whatever rigours came from the financial crisis’.
However after a storm of protest the council committed to building a replacement leisure centre in June 2012.
Mr Chowen (Con, Cowfold, Shermanbury and West Grinstead) said: “This is not the end but this is the beginning of the end. This has been a difficult and challenging four years.”
He felt ‘sorry’ that they were unable to replace the indoor athletics facility known as the tube, but argued that by adding the sixth court to the sports hall they would create ‘huge flexibility to the use of the centre’.
Peter Everett, speaking on behalf of the BBHLC Joint User Group (BJUG), said they were ‘very pleased’ to see a proposal that both recognised population growth facing the Horsham and the health, social, and community benefits that could be realised from providing district facilities on a scale that could cater for the extra demand.
They regretted the loss of the tube, but understood the difficulty of making a financial case for its replacement.
However Mr Everett did raise ‘major concern’ with the council’s financial evaluation as it did not seem to recognise any funding arrangements.
He added: “Overall the BJUG recognises that this proposal is one which makes sense for the growing population of Horsham and for the health of the district and subject to further constructive discussions on the outstanding issues and design we are pleased to support it.”
Back in June 2012 HDC agreed to build a new £7.3m centre after a hard-fought campaign by leisure centre users, but then in February 2014 it unveiled fresh plans to create a ‘destination venue’ vision for the Broadbridge Heath Quadrant.
These included a new leisure facility, medical centre, hotel, restaurants and up to 200 apartments.
But these proposals changed again after major developments in the retail and construction markets, and Mr Chowen explained how they had been on a ‘wild goose chase’ with the NHS.
If approved by Full Council next month construction could start in the autumn of 2016 with the new centre opening in 2018.
The new facility would be built next to the indoor bowls centre, which is being retained.
Officers confirmed they were planning to interview for a project manager and quantity surveyor before Christmas.
Philip Circus (Con, Chanctonbury), cabinet member for housing and public protection, said: “I think it was Jonathan who described himself as the cabinet member for fun. We need fun at the moment with the whole local position with the battles over the Horsham District Framework.”
He continued: “This project provides vitally important benefits for the people of our district, is very good, and I think we should press ahead with it.”
Kate Rowbottom (Con, Billingshurst and Shipley), cabinet member for community and wellbeing, added: “I’m not an expert on finances but I do know something about the hidden rewards of providing something like this in the district.
“They are very hard to quantify but they are essential to make this district into the wonderful place it is to live.”
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