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saves our sports centre

Later today, redundancy notices are due to be handed to staff at a much-loved West Midlands sports centre - much to the surprise of local residents. Dr David Nicholl wonders what happened to local democracy.

New Years resolutions always come back to bite you - mine was to to be less angry and more chilled in 2009. No-one believed I would manage it - my secretary laughed out loud. I should have listened to her as it all fell apart on day 9 of 2009.

So what got my goat? Arriving home from work last week, my wife fumed “Read this in the Stourbridge News, we’ve got to do something!”.

Bromsgrove Council are removing any further public funding of Hagley’s only sports centre from the end of March - a decision that was apparently made in February 2006. Yet in the intervening years, no-one in Hagley knew this decision until the week before staff were going to be served their redundancy notices.

The cost of running the centre is estimated to £100,000 and the council made the decision to cut funding in 2006, even though this flies in the face of the government’s anti-obesity agenda to try and encourage people to be more active.

Local GP, Dr David Richards is fuming- “Withdrawal of funding from this vital civic amenity would seem to be ill conceived at at time when there is a national campaign to reduce obesity.

"The council should be diverting more resources into attracting more people to play sport and exercise and improve their health, rather than close the sports centre to save money.

"The closure may reduce council expenditure, but surely the council must realise that there are other costs that will follow, such as increased demand on healthcare services due to poorer health and obesity.

"For those residents of Hagley that are driven to maintaining their health and sporting activity, they will have to be literally driven to find alternative sports centres with resultant increase in traffic congestion and carbon emissions.

"The population of Hagley is constantly growing due to town planning decisions to allow building of more and more houses in the locality, but rather than improving the infrastructure of the community, the council is poised to remove its only local sporting facility.

"This decision seems extremely short sighted and financially motivated, when the council should really consider supporting the health and fitness of the local community."

According to one member of the Parish council “this whole matter has been kept from the Parish Council until the news of the closure broke this week”, yet the chair of the Parish council, Steve Colella, also sits on the District council who made the decision.

Concerns have been raised as to whether the council can do this legitimately - it has been alleged that when the centre (which is part of Haybridge School) was opened in 1999, it had the support over £800,000 funding from Sport England with the proviso Bromsgrove District Council gave a commitment to provide the sports centre facilities to the public for 21 years.

Currently I have been unable to verify these figures and the views of Sport England on the proposed closure are not known.

Thus within a matter of days of this story breaking, a website has been set up, over 200 signatures have signed a petition on the number 10 website, and a public meeting arranged. But is all this a waste of time when redundancy notices are due to handed out today to the staff?

Big questions remain of local politicians as to why the people of Hagley were kept in the dark.

So much for a quiet 2009 - methinks that Bromsgrove council have picked the wrong Sports Centre to try and close.

From my point of view, I am very grateful for all the training President Bush has given me in how to organize a campaign - by any reckoning Guantanamo was an away match, but Haybridge Sports Centre is definitely a home game which I have every confidence we will win in the end.

 The only question I have for the council is will they back off before or after the Daily Mail run this story.



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