EXCLUSIVE: College delays pitch closure decision after listening to community disquiet

John McCall

John McCall - Credit: Archant

A college has responded to concerns about the planned closure of its Hitchin sports facilities to the public by delaying the decision.

North Herts College had said it was to close its doors to a number of sports clubs including numerous youth and adult football teams – informing groups they were refusing to take bookings at the Cambridge Road campus after February 26.

However, after the Comet broke the story last week, a large number of objections from various sports teams – as well as the wider community and Hitchin MP Peter Lilley – helped move to persuade the college into a rethink.

The conciliatory decision will now result in many youth and adult football teams – and a badminton team – being able to fulfil their current season fixtures after the college confirmed it will keep its facilities open until the middle of June.

The decision will also give breathing space to clubs who use the site to find alternative venues from the summer, while helping the college consider other options which could keep the facilities open in the long-term.

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A college spokeswoman said: “We’ve heard the concerns of the community about the prospective closure of the sports facilities at our Hitchin campus.

“In light of their feedback we’ve decided to keep the facilities open to the public until the middle of June while we work with partners to consider whether there are viable ways to keep the facilities open for the long-term.

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“While we may need to make some changes to operating hours and other aspects of the operation we’ll make sure sports teams are able to train and fulfil their fixtures to the end of the season.”

John McCall, who has run a badminton club at the site since the 1980s, said: “It’s credit to the college senior management they’ve decided to continue the close relationship with the Hitchin sporting community.

“I’m hopeful a permanent solution will be put in place for the future benefit of both the college and the hundreds of residents who rely on the facilities.”

The college is looking to work with partners over the coming weeks to explore whether there are ways in which they can keep the facilities open for the long term by finding a model which is commercially viable.

The Comet understands the college is owed around £14,000 from various teams after issues with their invoicing system. However NHC is in the process of implementing new procedures which will ensure accounts are up to date.

The spokeswoman added: “We‘ve experienced some difficulties with the invoicing process for users of the sports centre due to staff changes and major system implementations. Our finance department is working to address these issues as a matter of urgency.

“We’ll be contacting customers over the coming days to ensure their accounts are accurate and up to date. These issues were not material to our decision to close the facility to the public.”

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