Jonathan Chowen, cabinet member for Arts, Heritage and Leisure, hosted an online Facebook chat with members of the public eager to voice their views on Horsham District Council’s future options for the centre.
Each consultation option, released last Tuesday, recommends the demolition and decommissioning of the current centre, replacing it with a smaller one on land south of Horsham Indoor Bowls Club.
A preferred option, number six, provides a new gym, two court multi-purpose hall, cafe, and a six rink indoor bowls club.
However, neither an indoor nor outdoor running track (home to clubs like Blue Star Harriers) would be replaced, and the sports hall facilities (Badmington Club), HAODS and Theatre 48, and Sensory Room would all be relocated to an alternative site.
Trea Hugger, who joined the live chat between 7pm and 8pm on Thursday night, pleaded councillor Chowen not to think of centre users as ‘units’.
She said: “I am one of 9,000 BBHLC gym users. Please don’t think of us as units which can easily fit in other existing facilities. What we are are little communities and support networks, even families.
“The gym and classes are a real source of support physically and for mental wellbeing.”
To which the cabinet member replied: “Hi Trea, the consultants have identified essential and desirable facilities against the identified need.”
Meanwhile Ruth Garner probed the councillor on where a new athletics track would be constructed.
“BBHLC athletic track was there before K2 was built,” she said. “Blue Star Harriers and Horsham Joggers need facilities, including a track, in Horsham. The football club still does not have a site many years from moving out of Queen Street, so where on earth would an athletic track re-locate to?”
Councillor Chowen explained that ‘Sport England says we need a population of 250,000 to justify a running track or if tracks are not within 45 mins of a rural area.
“Brighton, Worthing and Crawley are all within this travel time from many parts of the district.
“That being said, we have included the option of a running track in Options five and seven, especially we would welcome contributions from the governing bodies of these sports.”
He added: “We have not identified a location for the athletics track, but are hopeful that we can find one.”
Sheila White, members of the over 50s group and the BBHLC joint user group, questioned how these options are classed as ‘progress’
She said: “The headline in the West Sussex County Times (Thursday April 26) looks good because it implies a new Leisure Centre will be built and people will assume it will be the same and better than the one we have. But it will be smaller and a lot of the activities now enjoyed at the current Centre will be gone forever. How is that progress?”
The councillor responded: “We are only pursuing in detail the four options recommended by the consultants but members of the public can comment on the other options if they wish.
“A full consultation process will be taking place from May 5 to June 5 and full details will be on our website.”
The conversation came to a close after the cabinet member reassured the public that ‘the centre will be new, fit for purpose, 21st century and the right size to meet the needs of Broadbridge Heath and the new housing west of Horsham’.
“Activities will not be lost, they will be either replaced or offered alternative venues which have the capacity to take them,” he added.
An official month long public consultation commences on May 5. Full details can be found at www.horsham.gov.uk