‘Once in a lifetime chance’ to make ambitious plans for leisure centre

JPCT-24-11-11 S11480280a Horsham District Coucil, Park North, protest Broadbridge Heath Leisue Centre closure -photo by steve cobb
JPCT-24-11-11 S11480280a Horsham District Coucil, Park North, protest Broadbridge Heath Leisue Centre closure -photo by steve cobb

Work on a new running track at Tanbridge House School could start as early as this year, while construction of a replacement for Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre might begin in 2015.

At a meeting of the centre’s Joint User Group Horsham District Council’s cabinet member for leisure struck an upbeat but cautious tone about what facilities would be provided in a new facility.

It was announced by Horsham District Council in November 2011 that the leisure centre would be decommissioned with no replacement, but after a hard-fought campaign the council agreed to provide a new facility and running track in June 2012.

While ‘Option 7A’ was agreed in 2012 many users still felt short-changed by the amount of facilities to be provided in the new centre.

Answering users’ questions on Wednesday night Jonathan Chowen, cabinet member for arts, heritage, and leisure, said: “We can be more ambitious with the project than what we started out with and in the next few months you will see how ambitious we have been.”

He added: “We do not want to over-encourage and under-deliver, but I hope you are surprised about the plans and what we are hoping to deliver.”

He continued: “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something special and we will help match this ambition if we can.”

During the question and answer session Mr Chowen made several announcements, including that for 2014/15 they had budgeted £1.27m for the new running track at Tanbridge House School, and hoped to put the first spade in the ground in 2014.

While he admitted it represented a huge cost, it remained fundamental to HDC’s plans as it was where sports started from.

However Mr Chowen said that talks were still taking place between the school and West Sussex County Council.

Keith May, of Blue Star Harriers, said: “Changing and storage facilities are of prime importance.

“Have you had consultation with the school and West Sussex County Council about putting money into changing and other facilities at the track?

“There’s no point in having a track if you have no changing facilities.”

Mr Chowen replied that work on the running track would be split into two phases, first the running track itself, then a discussion about what facility they would have next to it.

He explained: “I do not think I can make a case for HDC picking up the whole bill for a very expensive pavilion and changing rooms.

“I think I would definitely be making a case of going into partnership for a high quality pavilion.”

He said they were quite keen on Multi Use Gaming Areas (MUGAs) and provision for a football academy, especially five a side, and would be talking to DC Leisure.

After talks over funding with Badminton England there was the possibility of providing a five or six court sports hall, rather than the three-court hall HDC had originally planned for.

He appealed to user groups to speak to their regional and national governing bodies about funding for the different facilities within the proposed leisure centre.

On gym facilities he said it would be the ‘big earner’ in a new centre.

However Mr Chowen came under fire from one 50-plus user, who argued that he was accommodating all the clubs, apart from the 50-plus group.

He replied that the 50-plus group had not asked for anything specifically as they make the best of all the existing facilities.

The delay on providing a new centre is because release of the land where the facility is planned for will come after the occupation of 750 of the 963 homes being built south of Broadbridge Heath.

HDC are negotiating an early release of the land with developer Countryside Properties.

The existing site would then be sold, with a figure of around £20m quoted.

Back in June 2012 the council also committed to keeping the old leisure centre open until the new one has been completed.

On delays Mr Chowen said: “It does seem to be taking longer than we hoped.

“I really wanted to announce something concrete by Christmas. This project is incredibly complex because lots of opportunities have become available to us and we have had to explore them.”

While negotiations continue HDC has to pay significant sums for on-going repairs to BBHLC.

Mr Chowen explained: “The maintenance is so huge. In the last two years it’s really really expensive.

“We are in a building that is expensive and dilapidated and it has to be replaced.

“Considering the opportunity to do something new I wanted to do something that was exciting and something very interesting.

“There are some questions on details during this whole process, but the next stage when we come forward with an announcement it will be a general idea of what our ambitions are for the leisure centre and the quadrant.”

Areas where Mr Chowen was less optimistic included a sensory room and indoor tube.

Natalie Gazey, a Horsham mum of a 10-year-old with severe cerebral palsy, argued for a retention of the sensory room and a Changing Places toilet.

On the subject of the specialised toilet Mr Chowen answered: “We are very keen but we are still guardians of the district purse and we do need to think of everybody.”

Due to the cost of providing an indoor tube he said it was something they dropped quite early on, and if it were to be provided it would have to be funded regionally rather than just by HDC.

Lastly he was looking at moving the Horsham Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (HAODS) to a slot in the Drill Hall in Denne Road.