Welwyn Hatfield faces ‘health threat’ after sports cash cutbacks

GOVERNMENT plans to axe a school improvement initiative started by the previous Labour administration could have a “disastrous” impact on the health of residents in Welwyn Hatfield, it has been claimed.

Fears were raised this week following Education Secretary Michael Gove’s decision to scrap the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme as part of a package of austerity measures aimed at bringing the UK’s spiralling debt under control.

Under BSF, five of the six secondary schools in the borough – including Onslow St Audrey’s in Hatfield and Monk’s Walk in WGC – would have been eligible for cash to upgrade their sports facilities, provided they were made available for use by the wider public.

The initiative had won the support of the Welwyn Hatfield Sport and Physical Activity Alliance (WHSPAA), which calculated it would allow access to sport for 3,500 extra residents a week.

WHSPAA chairman Dave Bartlett described the news as “disastrous” for the future of sport in the borough.

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The 71-year-old said: “Only one of Welwyn Hatfield’s six secondary schools (Stanborough) has a four court hall – and that does not meet 1990s standards let alone current ones.

“The lack of sports facilities is severely hampering the development of sport and physical activity in our community.”

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Dave, himself a qualified badminton coach, added: “At the moment, only 22 per cent of the population of Welwyn Hatfield do enough to keep themselves healthy.

“It’s going to be very difficult for us to help the health of people if there is a lack of facilities.”

Mr Gove described his decision to overhaul the BSF programme as “tough”, but said it was necessary in light of the state of the public finances.

His announcement came shortly before Welwyn Hatfield Council was due to launch a public consultation on sports facilities in the borough.

Darren Bennett, the council’s sports champion, told the Welwyn Hatfield Times he was “disappointed” by the news from the Department for Education, but added: “Unfortunately these are savings that have got to be made due to the current economic climate.”

Despite this, Cllr Bennett stressed he would do whatever he could to help promote sport in the borough.

“With 2012 just two years away, there is going to be a big push from Welwyn Hatfield Council in that area,” he said.

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