Sports hall fury over new Houghton Regis leisure centre

Complaints after public consultation opened on the new site

By Lynn Hughes
Sunday, 30th January 2022, 11:25 pm
Updated Sunday, 30th January 2022, 11:26 pm
One of the views of the planned leisure centre
One of the views of the planned leisure centre

A keen badminton player has hit out at the lack of a sports hall in the newly planned Houghton Regis leisure centre.

Consultation on a £25million community and leisure centre in the town, funded with £20million of government funding plus major Central Bedfordshire Council investment, has now been opened, but detractors have highlighted the lack of a sports hall.

Users of the current sports hall at the old centre have been told they can use the sports hall at the nearby school when it opens in September 2022.

But Eila Goss, who regularly plays badminton with the 50+ badminton group, said the lack of a sports hall at the new centre would drive away many of the groups who use the current hall.

The club regularly uses five of the six courts at the current centre, with around 30 people a time playing.

"The current hall is also used by many different clubs which include badminton, indoor football, basketball, archery, walking football, children's clubs, disabled clubs, and even classes during the lockdown," she said. "It is a well used and profitable facility. No sports facility should be without one."

The two-storey community and leisure hub will have a 25 metre eight-lane main pool, more than double the size of the existing Houghton Regis Leisure Centre pool. A learner pool will have a movable floor to raise or lower the depth for swimming lessons, there is a separate shallow pool, known as confidence water, and a changing village.

A substantial fitness suite, a spinning bikes studio and multi-use exercise studios will provide dedicated spaces for workouts and classes. There will also be two squash courts.

Arrangements with the new Houstone School will see its sports facilities also available for residents which includes a new sports hall for indoor sports.

"The older age brackets are being driven away from the centres" said Mrs Goss. "Many badminton players are complaining and will possibly have to give it up."

Mrs Goss, who is 67, says the club is as much a social club as well as keeping fit.

"We are not saying the new centre is unwelcome," she said. "But a sports hall is more important than a cafe.

"It is more important that the leisure centre caters for sports players and not resembles a holiday resort facility. It should cater for the older generation who are being encouraged to stay healthy, rather than those who want to go to somewhere that "looks the part".

At a meeting of the CBC full council early this month, Cllr Toni Ryan said: "The recent published application shows Houghton Regis is set to lose out, as the new building will have fewer facilities than the current premises.

"It'll have no sports hall whatsoever. The new facilities will be much smaller than those of our neighbouring town.

"Both myself and residents are shocked and upset about this."

Conservative council leader Richard Wenham described it as "somewhat disappointing that a brand new leisure centre seems to be unwelcome".

"There's no plan at all to restrict the facilities which are going to be available in this leisure complex," he replied.

"The budget has been awarded to us and we have to spend that funding by March 2024. It's our full intention to deliver a brand new leisure facility, with a sports hall shared with the adjacent academy.

"It makes sense not to build two such premises next to each other. I can confirm there'll be all the other facilities you'd expect in a leisure centre. This project is fully under way and is a critical one for this council to deliver."

The consultation is now open, and residents can give their feedback until Wednesday, 16 February 2022.

The council asks residents to look through detailed information on the new facility at: www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/kingsland and provide their opinions by answering questions and leaving comments on the online feedback form. Residents can also make suggestions for a name for the new facility.

Subject to planning approval, the construction of the new community and leisure centre will start later in 2022 once Houghton Regis Academy, the proposed site, is closed at the end of the summer school term. The new Houstone school is due to open in autumn 2022.

The leisure and community building will open in 2024 to meet the timeframes and funding criteria set by the government.

The new facility will replace the old Houghton Regis Leisure Centre. However, to ensure continuous leisure provision is available for residents, the existing centre will stay open until the new centre is complete. At this point, residents will benefit from the modern sports and community facilities at the new centre and also at Houstone School.

People can request hard copies of the consultation information, the questionnaire and a Freepost envelope to reply by emailing: [email protected]