Published: 16:07, 29 November 2019
| Updated: 12:40, 02 December 2019
A £20 million project to replace a leisure centre and its sporting facilities has been dismissed by a government body.
Sevenoaks council is proposing to build a new complex on the site of existing White Oak Leisure Centre in Swanley, which has served residents for more than 50 years.
Proposals were originally submitted in April but the council amended these following a backlash from residents.
Now Sport England, the public body tasked by the government with encouraging participation in sport, has also outlined its objections.
Submitting its response to the planning application, the health organisation said the proposal would result in the loss of existing sporting facilities "without adequate strategic justification".
The replacement leisure centre would include a six-lane 25m main pool, a two badminton court sports hall, three studios and a large fitness suite.
Other activities in the pipeline include Tag Active, an indoor playground for kids.
Sevenoaks council said the building is proving too costly to run and a "modern, energy-efficient facility" is needed to replace it.
But the sporting body raised concerns the centre, which is used by a variety of sports clubs - including badminton, gymnastics, netball, and roller hockey - would suffer from a reduction in fitness facilities.
It acknowledged the need to replace the existing centre but said the new offering would not be a "like for like" replacement.
Planning manager for Sport England, Jo Edwards, said: "The proposal would result in a partial or total loss of capacity of facilities at the leisure centre in respect of badminton, multi sports, squash and swimming.
"Sport England's view is that these aspects of the proposals would not in any event outweigh the significant and unjustified detrimental impact associated with the loss of provision and availability for community and play and pay sport hall and squash facilities."
Primetime, the fitness club for over 50s which meets three mornings each week, expressed "fury" and said the new centre could not be considered a replacement.
An extension of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, it said it would consider reviewing its position if the application was amended.
"Any amendments to the scheme should be discussed with the appropriate national governing bodies and the existing clubs that use White Oak Leisure Centre," it added.
A public meeting took place on Wednesday night in which residents were invited along to share their views on the proposals as part of a 15-minute slot.
Many left frustrated they had not been given the opportunity to fully present their presentation outlining their defence of the current sporting facilities.
Regular users Derek and Lynne Sutton set up a community group to represent the interests ofdifferent club members, of which some are GB internationals.
"What they are proposing does not make sense," said Derek.
"It is surprising how large an area the leisure centre already serves."
"Nine-hundred plus members, of which more than 400 are young people, will be homeless."
He also raised concerns about the lack of discussions regarding the existing sports halls which he says are still fit for purpose, unlike the wetside facilities.
"The consultations have never been about White Oak being a mix-use site, nor have they been about discovering the leisure requirements of the people of Swanley.
"The council literature has been extremely misleading and despite plans being discussed for over six years, the process from announcement to planning has been actioned in great haste.
"There has been little attempt to adhere to the National Planning Policy Framework requirements in the hope that nobody will notice.
"If allowed to progress as planned the people of Swanley and Hextable, as well as users from surrounding areas, will suffer the negative consequences of this disastrous decision for decades to come."
Spokesman for Sevenoaks District Council, Daniel Whitmarsh, said: “We welcome all comments from residents and centre users about our £20 million proposal for a modern, energy efficient leisure centre for Swanley.
"Every comment will be considered before we reach a decision on the planning application in the New Year.”
The application is expected to be referred to the Council’s Development Control Committee in February 2020.
Residents can view and comment on the planning application at www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/whiteoak
They can also email their comments to firstname.lastname@example.org quoting reference 19/02951/HYB together with their name and address or by writing to: Development Services, Sevenoaks District Council, Argyle Road, Sevenoaks, KentTN13 1HG.
The deadline for submissions has been extended to Monday December 2.
More by this authorSean Delaney