LETTER: Ensure HAODS can continue

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The article in the WSCT on the 13th March does not fully cover the background to HAODS and other sports and recreational clubs ending up being based at the Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre.

I was a member of HAODS for 40 years and as its chairman signatory to our lease at the centre. As was stated our facilities were to our exact specification and as a result the envy of professional, let alone amateur, companies.

That situation also applies to other ex-tenants of the council on the old Bomb Disposal Barracks site, who had to be given incentives to vacate their old premises when Tesco wanted to purchase the site from the council.

When the council acquired that site from the MoD there was considerable concern that it was a waste of ratepayers’ money, so local clubs were encouraged to use the facilities and adapt/repair the largely dilapidated assortment of huts and garages for their own use.

HAODS along with Broadbridge Heath FC, Theatre 48 and the Horsham Badminton Club were just a few of the organisations which were granted long term leases on the site.

However when Tesco offered to buy the site, the council was unable to resist the lure of a profit on the sale and a sizeable junk of rateable income. Hence the leisure centre was created to accommodate those tenants and also provide leisure facilities for the people of Horsham and District.

In latter years councils have been encouraged by central government to offload their leisure facilities to independent companies to operate and manage, but the purpose-built nature of this centre made it very unattractive.

As a result investment in the fabric and structure of the building was largely curtailed and a long term solution sought. A further land sale is now looming but the tenants appear to be at the end of the queue.

These organisations have all enabled the council to profit from the original deal as it will no doubt do again. Additionally HAODS have been a regular user of the Capitol, back to the original building, now Marks and Spencer in the precinct, 50 years ago.

For a large proportion of that time their shows, along with those of other amateur companies, have often been the only profitable users of the venue, enabling it to continue and introduce a greater variety of professional use.

I accept that ‘theatrical types’ are not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea but this and other organisations, have survived over the years and are now probably more successful than ever before.

I would urge the people of Horsham and more importantly the councillors to look very closely at the options and ensure that HAODS continues for yet more decades!

BRYAN SWAIN

Battle Road, Punnetts Town, Heathfield