16th Nov, 2019

Wasps training ground plan for Henley-in-Arden hit by huge opposition from clubs and community petition

Les Reid 8th Nov, 2019 Updated: 8th Nov, 2019

PROTESTS are mounting against rugby club Wasps’ plans for a new training base at a Henley-in-Arden sports centre – and a campaign group and petition have been launched.

The community is up-in-arms over the potential loss of sporting clubs and wide-ranging activities in the locality if planning permission is granted.

We reported last month protests from a wheelchair basketball team who fear being displaced.

Concerns are now being raised among multiple sporting clubs, a school, local parish councillors and businesses, and the local GPs’ practice.

A petition has already been signed by 900 people within days alongside a new Facebook page and campaign group, Henley Sports Centre Alliance.

WCG (formerly Warwickshire College Group) has agreed a deal to sell the site on Stratford Road, Henley-in-Arden, to Wasps, subject to planning permission.

The 13-acre site was previously a sports-focused college and preparatory school, but for the last three years has been run by WCG as a commercial sports centre.

A multitude of clubs use the indoor and outdoor facilities.

Campaigners say it comes despite a restrictive covenant on the indoor building to ensure its purpose for community use.

It is understood Wasps have said they want to talk with those potentially affected, and national sporting policies are supposed to prevent the loss of facilities unless suitable alternatives can be found.

A planning application has not yet been registered with Stratford district council, which would involve a public consultation.

Among those raising concerns and objections are The Henley –In-Arden Medical Practice, Warwickshire Bears Basketball Team, football clubs Henley Forest FC, Hockley Heath FC and Central Ajax FC, Stratford Hockey Club, a Weightlifting Club, Flyball Club, Henley Hotshots Netball, Coolsportz, Pilates Class and King Edward School.

It following the collapse of previous Wasps training ground plans for the Higgs centre in Coventry and Old Leamingtonians rugby club in Leamington.

A controversial move to displace Coventry City Football Club’s prized youth academy from the Alan Higgs Centre in Allard Way in Coventry fell through in 2017 amid protests and Wasps’ ongoing financial problems.

The formerly London rugby club – who came to Coventry’s Ricoh Arena after it was sold to them by Coventry council in 2014 in a dispute with the football club – had pledged to set up a permanent base in the city and bring inward investment.

The club’s temporary training base has been at Broadstreet rugby club near Binley Woods, where it was reported major former players were unhappy with facilities.

A campaign group statement reads:

If we believe what we read, there are only 100 members of the gym that will be affected by the closure. This is a gross misrepresentation of the potential impact on the wider community. There are in fact almost 300 users of the gym, many of whom are there after recommendations from the Henley Medical Practice.

The facilities also include the sports hall and the smaller fitness studios, the astroturf and grass pitches. There are 10 local grass roots football clubs that use the facilities, each of whom have several teams including Henley Forest, Claverdon, Hockley Heath, Central Ajax, Henley School and KES play hockey there, for KES this is their home ground. It is also used by Stratford Hockey Club. The local cricket clubs practice there as well as Claverdon Rugby Club. Several of the above clubs have sent their initial thoughts on the potential effects.

Moving indoors to the sports hall, which has a Community Use Order in place, we have The Warwickshire Bears, our disabled basketball team who have used the facility since it opened, netball clubs, children’s cricket clubs, weightlifting, Pilates, the list goes on and on.

The closure of the such a valuable local resource would have a far greater impact on the local community than current suggestions. There are over 1200 people a week that pass through the gates, gates that must remain open for the benefit and health of our community.

The concern is, that the sale is completed and the new owners close the site, it then remains empty until such time that our local sports clubs have been forced to disband and, the council decide the site is redundant and needs developing – hey presto planning is granted.

The financial implications to our community and local businesses would certainly be felt, but more importantly the health and wellbeing of our residents would be adversely affected by the proposed closure if the site.

WASPS AND WCG RESPONSE

Stephen Vaughan, Chief Executive (Sports) at Wasps, said: “We are aware of some concerns relating to the long-term future of the existing sports facility that sits on the site.

“We have had initial conversations with Beaudesert & Henley in Arden Joint Parish Council to discuss how the new-look site will benefit the town and the wider community and that engagement will continue.

“Discussions will also be taking place with various local stakeholders and developers as our plans move forward.”

A spokesperson for WCG (formerly Warwickshire College Group) added: “We are in ongoing discussions with the groups who currently use Henley Sports Centre about accommodating them at alternative venues, such as one of our college sites.

“We are making arrangements for the relocation of the Warwickshire Bears Wheelchair basketball team, and we are confident of finalising suitable arrangements for other groups.

“We are also exploring alternative arrangements for existing gym users at Henley Sports Centre by contacting other fitness providers in the region.

“Both WCG and Wasps will be participating in a public meeting in the near future to try and address any concerns, while outlining the exciting long-term benefits that this move can have for the town and wider region.

To sign the petition go to https://www.change.org/p/nadhim-zahawi-save-the-henley-in-arden-sports-centre?recruiter=1016534337&recruited_by_id=42eb4bc0-00a2-11ea-b35f-2fc60888bead&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink&utm_campaign=petition_dashboard

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