Welwyn Garden City skiers campaign to save dry ski slope
PUBLISHED: 12:10 21 September 2018 | UPDATED: 12:37 21 September 2018
Over 1,600 people have signed a petition to keep Gosling Ski Centre out of the hands of developers.
The site is one of several that have been earmarked for potential development by Welwyn Hatfield Council in the Local Plan.
In the proposal, the dry ski slope, which is part of Gosling Sports Park but is run by volunteers, would be bulldozed to make way for a potential 250 homes, with any savings to be reinvested in the sports park overall.
Like all local authorities, Welwyn Hatfield Council is tasked by the government with identifying sites for housebuilding as part of the Local Plan, a process that began in 2005 and which has assessed the dry ski slope as one of many proposed sites.
“However, development would still necessitate the loss of valued local sports facilities,” notes the council’s assessment of the site.
It’s exactly this that slope user Simon Godley, along with over 1,600 petition signatories, is concerned about.
The dry ski slope pulls in a thriving 50-plus group on Thursday mornings, and over 100 community groups make use of the facilities, including local cub, scout and beaver packs, disability groups as well as numerous schools.
Last Sunday (September 16) the English Schools Ski Association (ESSKIA) held their annual qualifying races at the slope.
“You can argue that not far away there’s a snow dome,” said Simon, speaking about Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre, which has real snow slopes. “But a dry slope is a completely different thing.”
Use of the dry slope is around one quarter of the cost of the snowdome, and offers different training opportunities.
He pointed out the that UK World Cup slalom skier Dave Ryding learned to ski on a dry slope, as did Eddie the Eagle.
The low cost allows schools to book several weeks in advance for pupils as absolute beginners, rather than just the two to three sessions that would cost the same at Hemel Hempstead.
Team Evolution, a race coaching company which has its base at Gosling, has worked there with local schools to introduce slalom ski racing to pupils from deprived backgrounds, giving a shot at the sport for young people who wouldn’t normally be in a financial position to learn to ski.
Twelve pupils were selected from each school and were taught from beginner level to race level.
“What was really special about this was seeing so many family members turn up to support their children on the day, and to see the smiles across their faces watching what their children had achieved,” said Simon.
He added that, with interest in skiing on the rise, the slope brings people in from many surrounding towns. “The WGC slope has a huge catchment area.
“If it goes, all those people who want to train ... it’s gone forever.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Nigel Quinton, who learned to ski at Gosling, is also backing the campaign.
“Like many families in the immediate area, we learned or practised on this slope, and our kids participated in events through their schools,” he said, after attending Sunday’s ESSKIA event. “But I had no idea just how important it was to schools and disabled groups across a wide area.”
Simon says he is “frustrated” by the consultation process, which he says did not reach out to the club.
A council spokesperson said: “We provided everyone the opportunity to share their views during extensive and numerous rounds of public consultation on the Draft Local Plan. Further engagement with the public will take place should the site remain in the adopted plan.
“We are committed to providing the right mix of sport and leisure opportunities and a review currently taking place into provision across the borough will help ensure we continue to provide high-quality, accessible facilities for local people.”
The council’s proposal says the fact that it wouldn’t be a Green Belt development, and that the posititives identified outweigh the negatives, give “significant weight in favour of the site” being developed. On the plus side, states the appraisal, the site is close to employment areas, schools and public transport. It also noted the site is near to listed buildings and partially in a conservation area.