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Is Chester community watersports centre dead in the water?

Funding issues and legal case put future of facility in doubt but council remains 'optimistic'

Computer-generated image of the Chester Community Watersports Centre by The Meadows.

There is a serious question mark over the future of a £2.5m project to create a world class boathouse on the River Dee in Chester.

In April the council backed its own plan to demolish the ageing Queen’s Park High School boathouse and erect a state-of-the-art community watersports centre in its place.

But now the scheme appears in jeopardy because of funding difficulties and a potential judicial review challenging the legality of the existing planning consent.

The current Queen's Park High School boathouse viewed from the front and rear.

The water sports vision aims to bring together existing users – Queen’s Park High, Chester Deva Canoe Club, Scouts’ Canoe Club and Chester Riverside Canoe Club – with Royal Chester Rowing Club, who have outgrown their facility on the opposite bank.

Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) is confident the scheme will happen and ‘hopeful’ construction can begin next year.

But many expected building work to start within months of planning approval. However, the project can’t happen at the moment because of a £2m shortfall.

Funding was originally due to come from CWaC (£500,000), an undisclosed amount from the Royals rowing club following the sale of its current premises and a substantial grant from Sport England. But the Sport England funding stream has since been axed.

Councillor Neil Sullivan

Ward councillor Neil Sullivan (Con, Handbridge Park), who has been asking council officers why nothing is happening, said: “My expectation was that as soon as it got planning they would get on with it because the funding was in place subject to planning permission, which is often the case.”

Cllr Sullivan, who was supportive of the project overall despite some concerns, added: “There is a question as to whether or when it will be delivered.”

Aside from any funding issues, a judicial review is being sought by Queen’s Park resident Clive Sykes, founder of Sykes Cottages, whose lawyers will argue planning consent was granted ‘illegally’ at a forthcoming hearing.

Businessman Clive Sykes, who is also chairman of Marketing Cheshire

Mr Sykes, who is also chairman of Marketing Cheshire, the agency that promotes Cheshire to tourists and business, accepts he will be branded ‘a Nimby’ but said his concern was the precedent set in allowing the loss of a small part of the Meadows to create the new water sports centre

“If they build this then what’s next?” asked Mr Sykes, who said the legal case centred around the procedure followed. He said documents supporting the application stated it would be a members-only club but last minute changes meant members of the general public would be allowed to use the boathouse and social area.

CWaC has not had time to respond to issues relating to the ongoing legal case but has addressed the funding situation.

Labour councillor Louise Gittins

Deputy council leader Louise Gittins (Lab, Little Neston and Burton), cabinet member for communities and wellbeing, told The Chronicle discussions were continuing with Sport England but other funding schemes were also being investigated with a view to ‘hopefully’ starting construction work next year.

She said in a statement: “All large scale developments take time and the watersports centre has an estimated cost of £2.5m. Gaining planning permission was the first milestone for the project, work to create a funding strategy has now started as planned and I’m optimistic that we will be successful.

Computer generated image of the Chester Community Watersports Centre showing the proposed view from Lower Park Road/Elizabeth Crescent junction to the Meadows access.

“Cheshire West and Chester Council has secured an initial £0.5m capital funding for this exciting project. We are exploring every option for additional funding including trusts, crowd sourcing and the rowing club.

“Initial conversations with Sport England about a potential new grant were well received however unfortunately the funding pot didn’t go ahead.”

A spokesman for Sport England said: “We did hold discussions with the partnership proposing to create the watersports hub, and they were one of a number of organisations invited to submit an ‘expression of interest’ in applying for a grant.

"Unfortunately, we were not able to progress the project at that time. All our capital programmes are heavily over-subscribed and we were unable to extend the Improvement Fund due to budgetary constraints

“An expression of interest is simply the first stage in any application process. No funding was formally offered.

“This is not a reflection on the partnership’s proposals for the watersports hub and we are happy to continue dialogue on a possible application to our recently launched Community Asset Fund.”

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