THE decision to sell off council assets to pay for Basildon’s new £38million Sporting Village has divided the town.
Basildon Council’s Tory leaders insist state-of-the-art sporting facilities at the Sporting Village will be in a different league to anything seen in the area before.
However, many residents will at best have mixed feelings about the new venue, off Cranes Farm Road, Basildon, because so much is being sacrificed to cover its cost.
One of the biggest casualties is Markhams Chase Leisure Centre, off Markhams Chase, Laindon, which recently closed after Basildon Council sold the site to housing developers Bellway Homes for £7.9million.
Many people have happy memories of using the old pool, gym and other facilities.
Dennis Swaysland, 76, of Beauchamps Drive, Wickford, who led a doomed campaign to save the sports centre that first opened in 1989, said: “The building was still 100 per cent in good condition and didn’t need to come down.
“The gym there was small, but it was good and the staff were nice. You don’t need an Olympic sized pool either, like they’ve built at the Sporting Village.
“The smaller one at Markhams Chase was more than big enough for kids to enjoy themselves and learn to swim.”
He added there were two squash courts at the old sports centre which will not be replaced in the Sporting Village.
John James, 73, of Somercotes, Laindon, had fond memories of the staff at Markhams Chase.
He said: “You get more of a community atmosphere in little more local leisure centres like that and it was ideal because I could walk over there.
“Nothing was too much for the staff. They used to look after elderly people when it came to aerobics and using gym equipment.”
Shenda Leatt, 42, of Pound Lane, Laindon, said: “I enjoyed going to Markhams Chase for aerobics classes, over four or five years, with my friends. My daughter used to play badminton there too.”
John McKay, 63, chairman of Lee Chapel North Community Panel, claimed large numbers of people are still angry the old leisure centre closed.
He said: “My grandchilden used it for dance classes and football and my daughter went the gym.
“It will be a big loss and I won’t be going to the Sporting Village, as I think there were lots of better things the council could have ways to spend our £38million.”
Moira Brock, 60, of Mellow Purgess, Laindon, agreed: “Markhams Chase will be sadly missed and a lot of people are fuming that it’s gone.”
Other facilities set to be sold off to help fund the Sporting Village are the old Gloucester Park Swimming Pool, off Broadmayne, and playing fields at Kent View recreation ground, Vange, Pound Lane, Laindon, and Northlands Park, Pitsea.
Olympic legend Sebastian Coe praised the Sporting Village when he visited last month.
Lord Coe, 54, told Basildon Council leaders he was very impressed with the venue, which will have the largest swimming pool in the region.
Tony Ball, leader of Basildon Council, believes local critics will be won over once the giant leisure centre opens on April 30.
He said: “It’s always sad when things close. However, I hope when people go to Sporting Village they will think it was worth the loss, because the facilities will be so much better.”
He added the council will subsidise swimming, badminton and other key sports at the Sporting village to ensure prices remain affordable.
He said: “The Sporting Village is only a short distance from Markhams Chase so I hope people will come and see what it has to offer.”