Support Malton School's Sports Centre Bid : 1 December 2004

It seems a long time ago since I last wrote about the proposed Central Ryedale Dry Sports Center. I thought that, after the last local elections, this project would be well on by now! But no – wrong again! After the argument for this project had been won resoundingly, the Council is about to go through a bureaucratic procedure using an expensive consultant to do a job which most people could do in their heads, using common sense.

Let me recap.

For years (up until 1996) it was Council policy to build a Central Ryedale Dry Sports Center, provided it was built in partnership with others. In 1996 Malton School proposed to build a dry sports hall for the school. At that time they could have got an 80% lottery grant, provided there would be joint use with the public in the same way as there is now at Lady Lumley’s School in Pickering. So the school asked the Council to support the school’s bid. Initially this was agreed, and Council officers suggested that the Derwent Pool be moved to the same site, and be part of the project – in order to reduce running costs as well as the large sums which are still being spent on repairs to the Derwent Pool. The proposal to move the Derwent Pool to Malton was not popular, and became a political issue.

Sport England (as it is now called) will not sanction any lottery grant aid of any large scale project without a feasibility study to show that the lottery money would be well spent. So the Council appointed a consultant to do a feasibility study which would satisfy their requirements. The cost was estimated at 30,000, but, shortly after the 1999 elections, there was a change in the balance of political power, and the work was stopped after 25,000 had been spent without anything to show for it.

So the Council paid 15,000 to another consultant, who had considerable experience of dealing with Sport England on lottery matters, to prepare a sports strategy for Ryedale. He advised the Council that: “The principal indoor sports development need of the district was a community sports hall in the Malton/Norton catchment area.” This recommendation was for a dry sports facility and did not include a swimming pool. Nevertheless, the Council rejected this recommendation. Please note: so far 40,000 had been spent without achieving anything!

That is how the matter stood until the 2003 elections, when there was another change in the balance of political power, and it looked as though the district would have its long needed dry sports hall at last. Dear me, if only it could have been so easy!

First it was suggested that there were two possible partners for the project: the School and the Malton Sports Association – and that the school had lost interest. Then the School told the council that they had not lost interest, and the Sports Association made it clear that what they wanted was something quite different, and that they were not in competition with Malton School.

In the meantime, the planners have come up with a scheme to build the sports hall on the “Woolgrowers’site”.

Now the cold facts are these: it has always been accepted that no dry sports center can be viable, if it is only used by the public – that is why the policy was always to look for a partner. A school is a natural partner for a scheme of this kind, and indeed I know of no dry sports hall of the size we are talking about which has received lottery funding, unless it is one which is jointly used with a school. Further, no school is going to make very much use of a dry sports center, unless it is immediately accessible. There is no point in wasting valuable lesson time walking long distances in crocodile, and anyway, crocodiles are forbidden nowadays on health and safety grounds, and so pupils would have to be bused at unacceptable expense. So neither Malton School nor Norton College are likely to make much use of either the “Woolgrowers’ Site” or the Rugby Field site.

If, on the other hand, the sports hall is built in the grounds of Malton School, the education authority will be responsible for 40% of the running costs, and the building will be in continuous use in school time by the school as well as out of school hours, by the public.

Unfortunately, the Council cannot make up its mind on these simple points, without engaging another expensive consultant to provide a detailed report at an estimated cost of 24,000. This makes a total of 64,000 which will have been spent on getting nowhere very fast. And then, the Council will still have to do the study which Sport England requires in order to prepare the bid for lottery funding – another 30,000.

Readers will know that I favour spending part of the Council’s reserves on worthwhile projects, but I don’t believe in wasting public money unnecessarily. The Council does need to carry out the work required by Sport England: it does not need to do the 24,000 study on investigating sites. Yet, that is what the Council voted for - by 23 votes against 3 at the last Council meeting (the Conservatives, LibDems and Independents teaming up, as usual, against the Residents and the Liberals).

Some people wonder why David Clarkson and I left our respective political groups and did not join any others, but preferred to be our own group called the Ryedale Residents. When you hear of such nonsense as this, should anybody be surprised?

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