‘Beast from the East’ derails sports centre planners

Monday 5th March 2018 8:00 am
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Protestors gather over the controversial plans for the new sports centre in Alton. Picture order no: AD10-24-18 ()

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AS the ‘Beast from the East’ engulfed the district in snow, East Hampshire District Council was forced to postpone last Thursday’s planning meeting which was to reconsider the reserve matters application for a replacement sports centre for Alton.

Deferred at meeting on February 12 “in order for the applicant to demonstrate quantifiable evidence of how it has engaged the relevant stakeholders in mitigating Policies CP16 and CP17 of the joint core strategy (relating to like-for-like provision) and Policy CH2 of the Alton Neighbourhood Plan (enhanced recreational provision), within the 15-minute drive time of the new facility” the application was due to be brought back to committee this week.

But, as the Met Office issued amber warnings for the area with dropping temperatures and heavy snow causing major disruption to travel, there was rising concern among anxious stakeholders and councillors that they would be unable to attend what it is a key meeting for Alton.

The meeting has been rescheduled for today (March 5) at Penns Place, Petersfield, starting at 6pm.

Alton Sports Centre Action Group is aiming to persuade councillors to object to the plans in their current form on grounds that the proposed sports centre would not be big enough to support current or future sporting needs.

Having staged a peaceful demonstration outside the current sports centre on Sunday, in bracing weather, Alton Sports Centre Action Group chairman Alex Golding said she was “overwhelmed” by the support shown by the large number of residents, families, sporting clubs and sports centre users protesting about “the real lack of consultation over the proposed new centre and that it would simply not be big enough in terms of sporting facilities to accommodate a growing community”.

She added: “With the current centre over-subscribed as it is with waiting lists galore, how can a new centre with even less sporting space possibly offer us enhanced facilities and accommodate all our sports? The truth is that there are more sports wanting to use the sports centre than currently do and the proposed new centre will exclude and/or displace 15 sporting activities. It is for our community and our children that we are so passionate that we are afforded a centre that can accommodate us all.”

Alton Society chairman Nicky Branch is also of the opinion that the facility will not be big enough and, he believes, councillors have put EHDC planners in “the invidious position of defending the indefensible”.

While the external space is “excessive”, Mr Branch believes that internal space for sporting activities is being sacrificed at the expense of ‘well-being’ space and this, he suggests, is a legitimate issue for the reserved matters hearing.

“On this basis alone, the application should fail.”

While there are “other contested issues such as proper, meaningful consultation, the procedural protocol followed, and whether the contractual dealings with Everyone Active were premature”, Mr Branch believes “scale is the key issue”.

And he added: “Alton and its local villages must be provided with equal or better and future-proofed sporting facilities – and there is no denying that the internal scale of the currently proposed new building is inadequate to achieve this.

“What is needed now is the political courage to admit that mistakes have been made: start again and concentrate on coming up with new consultation, surely leading to a bigger and better three-storey building with a smaller footprint, and with no problems of external and internal scale. This should be equally, if not more, commercially rewarding than the current proposal, thus off-setting any contractual complaints from Everyone Active.”

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