WALTHAM FOREST: 'Horror' at secret council sell-off sites list (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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WALTHAM FOREST: 'Horror' at secret council sell-off sites list
SPORT groups have reacted with “horror” to a leaked council document which suggests that the authority could sell off the borough's leisure centres to save money.
The Guardian revealed yesterday how staff had drawn up secret lists of publicly-owned buildings and pieces of land that could be disposed of in the next five years.
The documents, handed to this newspaper by concerned sources at Waltham Forest Town Hall, include suggestions that nearly all the borough's leisure centres – including Kelmscott, Larkswood, Walthamstow Pool and Track and Leyton Leisure Lagoon – may be sold off subject to a review and possible relocation of services.
Reacting to the leak, concerned organisations in the borough say the list reflects a broader attitude in the council that sport is a "low priority".
Jim Howell, chairman of the Waltham Forest Sports Council, said: “My immediate reaction is one of horror.
“One of the big concerns we have is the loss of sports facilities generally – you only need to see what the council have been doing to places like Drapers Field [in Leyton]. The general trend in the last few years has been a loss of green spaces and facilities.
“More closures would have an enormous impact. Many clubs would have to close or move out of the borough. This is already happening with groups like the Highams Park Fencing Club, which is now based in Redbridge.
“Of course it's not just sport being affected by these cuts and we're not saying that all other community resources should be ignored, but the council needs to think very carefully of the long term ramifications of getting rid of more facilities before taking any action.”
Esther Hill, secretary of the Waltham Forest Swimming Club, said: “They shouldn't even be considering doing this.
“It's very short sighted. Some of the council's funding goes on the smallest groups in the borough, yet it's been shown that swimming is the biggest mass participation sport in the country.
“There is already a fairly bad problem with there being not much for young people to do and if they started closing down leisure facilities that would only make it worse.
“But they must know that it would be political suicide if they closed down every pool.”
Brian Kapp, who sits on a variety of sporting committees including the borough's 2012 legacy panel, said: “I'm incensed that they could even think of this.
“If you look at places like Basildon and Crawley you can see where councils have got sport as a high priority, but that just isn't the case here.
“And I doubt that if any of these pools were to close that the council would actually replace them.”
The documents also reveal that the council has decided to sell off more than a dozen car parks and offices, and is pondering disposing of Edinburgh School and Pastures Youth Centre subject to a review of school place shortages.
Many of the borough's care homes are on the second list of possible disposals, suggesting that shelved council plans in 2009 to open two new 'super' facilities and close smaller residential units could be back on the agenda in future.
It comes ahead of council predictions that it must cut at least £30million from its budgets in the next two financial years.
The authority has already said it needs to make savings of £7.2million this year following a reduction in central Government funding and a budget overspend of nearly £5million.
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