Squash enthusiasts are devastated after learning the only public squash courts in Chichester are to be closed.
Westgate Leisure is soon to be taken over by Everyone Active – which already manages a number of leisure centres in the UK – from Chichester District Council.
However, the controversial decision to shut down the two squash courts to make way for an extended gym has caused a storm of outrage.
One squash court user, Paul Reed, from Bosham, said: “I heard a rumour that this could happen but was told that it was just one of the options being considered and that there would be a full consultation process before decisions were made.
“However, when I saw the consultation form it was obvious to me that this was not a proper, professional process at all – there was no mention of what options were being considered and it virtually boiled down to one simple question: ‘Are you in favour of the proposed refurbishment at the centre?’”
The only other squash courts in the city are at Chichester Tennis Club, where members have to pay around £47 a month plus joining fee.
Nick Harris, organiser of Chichester Squash Club, believes it is incredibly short-sighted to shut the courts.
He said: “Everyone Active’s decision will reduce the different types of activities available in the city, when in fact choice and sports participation should be encouraged to inspire this and future generations.”
Mr Harris has begun a petition to save the squash courts which will be delivered to Everyone Active and Chichester District Council.
Ian Cook, Everyone Active’s regional contract manager for Chichester, said: “We’ve been asking users of Westgate Leisure Centre what improvements they’d like to see going forward and the majority of the feedback we’ve received suggested that they want us to expand the gym and provide more equipment and activities.
“Our plans for the centre have been designed in line with this feedback and we believe they will make a big difference to the range of facilities we are able to provide and will help to reduce waiting times.
“Unfortunately, in order to achieve this, we need to use the space currently occupied by the squash courts.
He added: “We are in regular contact with those who currently use these facilities, to look at what we can do for them and to explore alternative options, including the use of our squash courts at our other sites within the district.
“We recognise that Westgate Leisure Chichester is an excellent facility and we want to work with our customers to further enhance it. We aim to keep our customers involved and informed throughout this process.”
Nevertheless, the decision from Everyone Active to close the Westgate squash courts has not just affected its own members, but outside participants also.
Zoe Shardlow, a coach at Chichester Raquets and Fitness Club, has spoken out about the substantial impact this closure will have on the sport as a whole. She said: “This is a massive issue for our sport and a huge loss to Chichester.
“I don’t know why they want to close the courts, there are gym facilities all over the city but these are the only public courts.
“Squash participation has gone up by 25 per cent in the past year, it makes no sense why they want to close the courts.
“If participation keeps increasing they will have to build more squash courts.
She added: “I haven’t seen any kind of attempt to increase participation at the Westgate courts before they decided to change it into a gym.”
Everyone Active plans to deliver a state-of-the-art gym in response to recent feedback on what can be improved in the centre, however Zoe does not believe the new facilities will outweigh the closure of the courts.
“A lot of the squash players won’t use the new gym as an alternative – it’s not the same.”
To take a look at the petition to keep the courts, visit chichestersquashclub.co.uk/petition/