Monday, July 17, 2006


Are local Tories going off the tracks?

Having just had all the Sports Aid events, it's timely to talk running tracks. First the good news, it looks like Bar End will get the 8 lane, all weather track and pitch that we've wanted for years. Everyone seems to welcome this, across all parties on the Council. It's finally happening because the University of Winchester has got involved and, among other things, has offered to meet the on-going revenue costs of the new facility.

Of course, funding is always the issue. Winchester City Council needs to find approximately £1m as its share of building this new outdoor sports centre. £600k will come from the Winchester Town Open Space Fund (this is money collected from developers when they build in Winchester, and is intended specifically for sports and recreation projects). This seems to me to be wholly appropriate, although it will use up all of the Town Open Space Fund.

The interesting twist is that Cabinet has recommended taking the remaining £400k from the Town Open Space Fund too. As the money for this isn't there, the Council will loan £400k from its General Fund to the Open Space Fund and claim the money back over a period of years as more money accrues to the Open Space Fund. Now, you could see this as a clever accounting wheeze; or you could see it as mortgaging the future. The Town Open Space fund will be denuded of cash for years ahead, so where will the money come from for improving football pitches, or new cricket nets, or tennis courts?

I think the City Council should recognise that this new sports centre is for the whole District (and beyond) and should put its money where its mouth is. The additional £400k should come directly from the City Council’s General Fund and not from future open space provision for local residents. Let's have a open air sports centre we can be proud of; and let's have on-going funding for other sports and recreation activities too!
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