UK athletics chief wants answers on council’s Broadbridge Heath leisure centre closure

HOR 141111 Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre. photo by derek martin
HOR 141111 Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre. photo by derek martin

THE CHIEF of Athletics UK is coming to Horsham next week, in the wake of Horsham District Council’s cabinet’s recommendation to full council to decommission and demolish Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre.

Ed Warner, the chair of the leading national governing body for athletics, is due to meet with Jonathan Chowen (Con, Cowfold, Shermanbury and West Grinstead), the HDC cabinet member responsible for leisure services and Natalie Brahma-Pearl, HDC’s director of community services, on Thursday December 15.

The news comes in the week officials from subsidiary national governing body England Athletics registered their surprise and incredulity at the decision to close the one of the district’s most popular sporting facilities.

Elspeth Turner, club and coach support officer for Sussex and Kent told the County Times of her ‘complete shock’ when she first heard the news.

“I thought the timing was just unbelievable, because there has never been a better time for people in athletics,” she said, citing the expected boost in the sport following the 2012 Olympics, as well as the fact London has just secured the 2017 World Athletics Championships too.

“The Olympics is a motivator to get people involved in sport and we are already working towards numbers significantly rising due to interest in the event.”

The former long distance runner and Horsham resident added that Sebastien Coe’s ‘number one reason’ for winning the Olympics ‘is the legacy it will deliver’.

“So for a town that is 30-odd miles from the Olympic stadium to decide that they are going to take down their track and their indoor facilities, it is unbelievable,” she said.

Elspeth’s comments were echoed by her England Athletics counterpart for Hampshire.

Christine Benning from Southampton defined the HDC move as ‘a great blow for the area’.

She said: “I think everyone involved, including local clubs are obviously very disappointed. It is a very important facility. Our athletes, particularly in the field events like hurdling, need an indoor facility to train in the winter and this is the only one in a 50 mile radius. We’re really short of facilities like this within the South area, and so its obviously a great blow for the area.”

Elspeth agreed, citing the cases of local Olympic hopefuls Jade Nicolls and Sophia Warner – Britain’s number one discus thrower and Europe’s number one sprint champion respectively – both of whom train at Broadbridge Heath.

“Within a 50 mile radius there is no other indoor facility,” said Elspeth. “Therefore you are drawing people not just from Horsham, far from it, but from the whole area who come to train at the indoor facility. I think there is a bit of a misunderstanding as to what the facility represents,” she added.

“If you don’t have indoor facilities then your training is start stop start stop and you don’t get results when it comes to competition time.

“That’s why the decision is very wrong.”