People power wins new leisure centre for Broadbridge Heath

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

One of the main driving forces behind plans for a new state-of-the-art leisure centre in Broadbridge Heath said the 18 months of ‘intense work’ has been like ‘spinning plates’ and he is looking forward to putting them down.

Jonathan Chowen, cabinet member for arts, heritage and leisure at Horsham District Council (HDC), has endured the lengthy backlash of a hard-fought campaign led by passionate leisure centre users since this newspaper reported its impending closure in November 2011.

Back then HDC released the findings of a £6,000 study into the future of leisure and deemed the Broadbridge Heath venue ‘surplus to requirements’.

The centre needed repairs of around £1.5million to the roof, mechanics, electrics and fabric of the building discovered when HDC was preparing to renew its management contract. It was planned to be closed in December 2012 and demolished.

A figure of 197,000 centre customers was quoted at the time in this newspaper’s original report.

An onslaught of protest ensued with countless leisure centre users taking to the streets regularly waving signs and chanting slogans.

Campaigners tasted victory when HDC announced it would replace the venue with a new one as a result of people power and strong campaigning by this newspaper.

Cabinet members promised to keep the current centre open until the replacement is built. The decision means HDC is still paying for building maintenance on top of the annual management cost of £168,000.

To this day the current centre’s popularity grows. Earlier this year the it was revealed that the overall attendance at Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre went up by 14.5 per cent, while gym attendances rose by 54 per cent in 2013.

With a degree of relief, Mr Chowen (Con, Cowfold, Shermanbury and West Grinstead)said this week: “It’s been 18 months of intense work by the whole team and there has been some exciting opportunities put forward.

“This little bit at the moment we want to share with the wider community so they can come back with their thoughts.”

He described the months of planning and idea sharing like ‘spinning plates’.

The cabinet member continued: “It’s been a lot like spinning plates. We have been putting them up and putting them down to develop a project that everyone is proud of.”

He is confident the project is going to be financially beneficial for the district.

He added: “I want to put these spinning plates down.”

Ray Dawe (Con, Chantry), leader of HDC, said: “This is a really exciting set of ideas for the future of the Broadbridge Heath Quadrant.

“When I became leader I made this matter one of my highest priorities. I am pleased that we have reached a point where we can share our emerging ideas with residents and users of the existing leisure facilities.

“The innovative proposals would deliver a state-of-the-art new centre and new running track with no impact on the public purse.”

He added: “In addition new retail and commercial space and new homes would be provided on the land that would be released and the money generated from this development would help us to continue to deliver quality services whilst maintaining low council tax.”