HUNDREDS of youngsters face going without access to sports facilities for more than a year.

Waltham Abbey Sports Centre, part of King Harold's School, is used by dozens of clubs every week, but will be shut down in January 2010 when a shared use agreement comes to an end.

The area, which has the highest child obesity rate in the district, will be left without a public sports venue for at least 18 months until a new purpose-built £1.7 million facility is finally opened in Roundhills in the summer of 2011.

The scheme has been criticised by Rod Butler, leader of the Shotokan Karate Group, which will be left without a home if the plans go ahead.

He said: “They're just making the decision solely based on money. There's no consideration for the young people in the area.

“I'm so annoyed that no-one even bothered to talk to any of the people that use the place.

"It seems to me that the council are far more interested in feathering their own nests and filling up the reserve, which should be spent on local children.

“It's tragic when the council and government are wittering on about overweight kids. How on earth can they do that if they can't be bothered to actually provide for local children?”

His views were echoed by Ann Mitchell, Chairwoman of the Waltham Abbey Residents Association (WARA).

She said: "At a time when concerns for health and obesity are rising in our society, sport provides an excellent way to enter into a healthy lifestyle and socialise with like-minded members of the community.

“We have very little in the way of recreational facilities locally and closing Waltham Abbey Sports Centre seems ill-advised. In the current economic climate, a new facility may not materialise or could take many years to be ready.”

But the plans have been challenged by Liberal Democrat councillors who are concerned that the scheme is “short-sighted” and have asked for plans to be re-examined.

Lib Dem group leader Jon Whitehouse said: "It's a very short-sighted thing to do. It really places the whole project at risk. We want to seek justification for that, that the council has really thought this through."

The plans are set to be discussed again next month.