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Doc Dave’s Blog

BAD SPORTS

28-01-2009

The scandalous story of how a sports centre could be closed to public use – even though that was a condition of an £800,000 grant. Dr David Nicholl reports.

Earlier this month, I reported how Bromsgrove District Council have announced the closure of the only sports centre in Hagley- a decision that was apparently made in 2006, but no-one in Hagley found about this until the Stourbridge News broke the story.

The Haybridge Sports Centre is located at Haybridge High School in Hagley, Worcestershire and is used by all sections of the community.

The centre was opened in 1999 with over £800,000 of money from Sport England (via the National Lottery) with a proviso that the facilities should be available for public use for the next 21 years. Indeed when Brierly Hill Leisure Centre closed some years ago, ironically one of the arguments to ameliorate its closure was that Haybridge Sports Centre was nearby!

The village is in uproar - almost 500 people have signed a petition and tonight a public meeting is being held in the Community Centre where I got to take on the council directly over this decision.

Up to this point, Bromsgrove Council have refused to compromise and have handed out redundancy notices to staff whilst being jeered by locals to chants of “Don’t be dim, save our gym”.

At the public meeting, where 200 people are expected to attend ncluding the leader of the council, Councillor Hollingworth, as well as council officials responsible for the closure plan, I plan to state how the council has failed to follow its own guidance for public consultation and has left itself wide open to legal challenge.

Indeed, the council minutes record that as far back as August 2007 that they had been warned that they would have to pay back the £800,000 in Lottery cash if they closed the centre to public use.

Further the council hoped to find a commercial partner to take over the running of the facility - this partnership collapsed in September, but instead of having a further discussion at the Council, no discussion took place and they went ahead with the redundancy notices.

This, I believe, is an abuse of the Council’s powers as they should have taken this back to the Council for further discussion and also thought through the implications of the Sport England contractual agreement. Hopefully the Council will see sense and reverse this decision- not least as campaigners we could not afford the £40,000+ legal costs of forcing a judicial review- however if a single person using the facility is on benefits, we may be in a position to seek legal aid. 

In a leaked e-mail seen by me, the vice-chairman of the council Councillor Scurrell admitted being very “uncomfortable” over the decision.

This could all get very messy for the Council but I remain optimistic that some deft back-tracking is on order.

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