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).