FRANCIS Maude confirmed he had been following ‘with interest’ the very public debate on the fate of Broadbridge Heath leisure centre over the past three months.
However, he did apologise for writing a column published in the County Times during this period which focused on the nation’s 2012 Olympic legacy.
At the time he was accused by readers campaigning to save the leisure centre of being insensitive. Could he understand that?
“Yes I can see that, and I put my hand up and plead guilty to that,” he said. “I hadn’t made the connection when I wrote the piece abut the Olympic legacy.”
Mr Maude continued: “I think the sporting legacy we want is actually less about sporting facilities, which actually Horsham is pretty rich in. There’s no shortage of very well used sporting facilities.
“The legacy one’s really after here is more people taking part in sport and that’s one of the things I’m working with Jeremy Hunt on.”
But participation would surely be affected by the closure of the district’s leading athletics facility, home to many other clubs and societies. Did he agree the Olympic legacy is at risk locally if plans to decommission and demolish Broadbridge Heath leisure centre are fulfilled?
“I don’t think it’s at risk,” he said, “but there does need to be proper provision for people who do athletics.”
Mr Maude reiterated that the decision is ‘classicly something for the local council’ though.
He said his Government ‘fiercely believes in localism’ and it is Horsham District Council that is accountable to its electorate on this issue. “They’ve got to make those decisions in a considered way,” he said.
But what warrants a considered way? Revelations from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests this week demonstrate that HDC possesses no formal written records on the controversial Leisure Future’s Study published last November that paved the way for the centre’s potential demolition (see page 7 Horsham edition).
HDC has confirmed the consultant was only given a verbal brief, and ‘no central file is maintained’ on the study. There is no written brief to confirm the consultant’s directions.
Was Mr Maude surprised by this? “I haven’t seen that detail, so I can’t really comment, but it does seem surprising,” he confirmed.
We asked Mr Maude hypothetically, that if a local authority commissions a study, the outcome of which significantly alters community provision, whilst at the same time that authority is saving money and generating significant funds, should formal records of that process be maintained in the public interest?
“It’s surprising if there were no records at all,” said Mr Maude, “but beyond that it is hard for me to comment.”
See page 7, Horsham edition