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26/05/2010
TELEGRAPH FIGHT COURT CLOSURES

Telegraph Sport's campaign to safeguard hundreds of sports facilities from closure has suffered a major blow after new government guidelines were heavily criticised by campaigners as "potentially catastrophic". or threats nationwide.

Last February we disclosed that community facilities and multi-sports clubs were either being threatened with closure or faced redevelopment in favour of housing, 'wellbeing' centres and other schemes.

The government has since re-examined PPG17, its existing policy guidance on open space, sport and recreation. However campaigners, who have accused local authorities of approving applications at an "alarming rate", believe that property developers will still have a stranglehold over many council-owned sporting facilities if guidelines are not made explicit.

Gordon Kerr, head of threatened facilities at England Squash, said: "The easy option for local authorities is to sell off to property developers who can then demolish existing facilities. The consequences of demand and supply analysis could be lethal.

"This document [currently in consultation period] should clearly specify what property developers can target and what facilities can be saved. Right now this legislation is both sloppy, inept and could potentially be catastrophic."

Following the closure of Lambs Squash Club in 2007, the Michael Sobell Centre in Islington, north London, has been cited as a leading example of the current plight faced by sports facilities.

Regarded as the largest municipal sports centre in London, The Sobell is currently undergoing renovations while the centre is expected to be bulldozed even though a planning application or details on its future have yet to be filed. Islington Council have already backed controversial plans to include a housing development, police station and medical centre on the existing site.

With 30,000 school users during term time, an absence of facilities is likely to be felt across the borough for three years while the scaled-down rebuild takes place. No equivalent facility within the area has been put into provision while the future of its 16 Badminton courts and six squash courts remain in doubt.

Although campaigners calculated that refurbishment would cost around 12 million, the council dismissed these figures and voted for a 30m rebuild on the grounds that refurbishment would cost 46m.

However a key document seen by The Daily Telegraph confirmed that the 46m figure would only apply if the entire site was on similar grounds to a 'wonder pool' being created in Edinburgh for Team GB at the 2012 Olympics and 2014 Commonwealth Games. Campaigners lambasted the Council during this process, claiming that no inspection or survey was undertaken. A public meeting will be chaired on Thursday night in Islington.

Kerr said: "Time and time again we are seeing centres like the Sobell Centre being undermined. Local authorities are allowing housing on the site because it qualifies as government product. It is unacceptable to think that these authorities can manage the conflict of interest forced upon them.

"Unfortunately most of our adversaries are local authorities, who tend to be driven by political agenda that clouds their obligations to judge matters such as building fitness and sporting success for the future."

A Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: "Local authorities are best-placed to make local decisions about sports facilities. The Government would be concerned to hear about sports facilities that are in demand locally being closed down."

Sport England, the government quango, currently has no direct responsibility to safeguard facilities. Campaigners have called for an independent group to monitor threats nationwide.

Postscript: England Squash have appointed a new Investment Manager, Jon Carney, in April with a core responsibility of managing the ESR Capital Investment Programme (2009/2013).

 

 

   

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