ALTON may have a multi-million pound, state-of-the-art sports centre within two years.
An exciting prospect for the community, the race is now on to ensure that it is designed to meet the town’s sporting needs.
Plans for the facility, which is to be built behind the existing centre, have taken a leap forward with the release of information about the nature of the space to be provided.
In a statement this week, it has been revealed that the new facility is expected to include a six-lane, 25-metre swimming pool, a learner pool, a six-court sports hall, two fitness studios, squash courts, a gym, a climbing wall and a soft-play area.
A proposed spa will also offer significant commercial investment interest.
Though the plan has sparked eager anticipation that, after a 20-year delay, the town is to get a replacement for its sports centre, which opened in 1972 and has long been deemed ‘past its sell-by date’, there is concern among some Alton and District Sports Council (ADSC) members that the new facility may be “driven by profit rather than need.”
But for EHDC it is something of a coup. The council is bucking the national trend by not only cutting its share of council tax by 2.6 per cent, but also building two new leisure facilities – one in Alton, the other in Whitehill and Bordon, which will have a six-lane 25m pool, two fitness studios, a learner pool and a gym, and redeveloping The Taro Centre in Petersfield to expand its health and fitness facilities and improve its changing rooms and reception area.
In a new deal with EHDC, from April 1 the management of its three leisure centres will be taken over by Sports and Leisure Management (SLM), which operates 147 such facilities across the UK. Working under the title ‘Everyone Active’, the partners have agreed to invest nearly £30m in the building and refurbishment project.
Work in Petersfield will begin this year, while the two new centres will be built simultaneously in 2019.
EHDC deputy leader Richard Millard said: “This is the news that so many people in East Hampshire have been longing for.
“We can look forward to two brand new top-quality leisure centres and improved facilities across the district, all to be delivered within the next two years.
“And the commercial elements written into the contract will ensure that these facilities will not only offer fantastic sporting opportunities but, over the lifetime of the contract (20 years), will generate profits that the council will invest in improved services provision at no cost to council tax payers.”
David Love, Everyone Active’s contract manager, said: “We look forward to becoming a part of the community and encouraging more people to improve their health and wellbeing through activity.”
ADSC’s members, who have been briefed on the proposals by EHDC lead for Alton Dean Phillips, still have raised concerns about the plans.
Alton and District Swimming Club fears it could be “a wasted opportunity” to instal an eight-lane competition standard pool as a six-lane pool will fail to meet the needs of the club and of a growing community.
Having been led to believe that Alton would have a new sports centre that was equal to, or better than the current centre, which has four permanent squash courts, Alton’s thriving squash academy is disappointed with the proposal for two fold-out courts that would not support an expanding club that has four teams playing in the Hampshire League and provides free coaching for young players.
Nor would the proposed main hall and equipment storage facilities meet the expanding needs of the trampoline and gymnastics clubs, and the Health and Fun Club for the over-50s.
ADSC chairman, Joe Walters said: “Collectively, despite assurances to the contrary, ADSC remains uneasy that the proposed plan has been based on the current usage of the existing sports centre, which is already grossly inadequate”.
Members also say that the plans fail to take into consideration the inevitable increase in the population of the area. “There was,” said Mr Walters, “apprehension that there was insufficient room within the proposed footprint to accommodate any expansion and that planning of the new centre would be based on its ability to make a profit rather than what is needed.”