A world class £2.5m Chester boathouse scheme has been approved which aims to raise fitness levels with the prospect of producing more Olympic gold medallists.
Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) planning committee members unanimously backed the authority's own planning application to demolish the existing Queen’s Park High School boathouse in Lower Park Road, Queen’s Park , then erect the community watersports hub and 46-vehicle car park in its place.
The vision will 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 of the River Dee .
Recommended for approval, local ward members ‘called-in’ the project for a committee decision because of the scale and nature of the development at a key riverside location.
Visiting ward member Cllr Razia Daniels (Con, Handbridge Park) highlighted residents’ concerns around extra noise and increased traffic. There were worries around the disruption from social functions at the centre. And some perceived the development as encroaching the Meadows with fears over a precedent being set.
She said: “I was a governor of Queen’s Park High School and I know the school is very keen to improve their facility. The building is no longer fit for purpose and a modern, innovative fit-for-purpose facility would not only enhance but encourage greater participation which can only be a good thing for our young people.
“This community hub will be, as the name suggests, open to everyone. It will be absolutely fantastic because it will be attractive to young people who would not normally be able to access such a great facility and if they work hard enough they could go on to win Olympic gold.”
Cllr Daniels concluded: “In principle I am supportive of this community hub. I know there is a great deal of support but also a great deal of objections which I hope you will take into consideration when you are making your decision.
"If you are minded to approve I would like to urge you all, please, can you add robust and enforceable conditions to safeguard the quality of life of residents living in the neighbourhood.”
Deputy council leader Cllr Louise Gittins (Lab, Little Neston and Burton), cabinet member for communities and well-being, said: “I’m asking for your support tonight for this innovative and inclusive community watersports centre. This is a centre for all of the community and will give people, young and old, access to our beautiful river. Active Cheshire have identified in their strategic needs assessment there is a demand for canoeing and rowing, especially for people who want to try something new.
“In Cheshire West and Chester, 33.6% of 10-11-year-olds are overweight or obsese and 64% of our adults. The difference in life expectancy between our poorest and most affluent wards is up to 12 years. Rowing and canoeing are great ways of getting fit, improving cardiovascular ability, building muscle strength and stamina. And it’s also great fun.”
This was a fantastic ‘may be once in a lifetime’ opportunity to develop the current centre, which she described as ‘an eyesore’. CWaC would work with the newly formed Cheshire Water Sports Partnership, which includes Queen’s Park High School, with the ambition of opening up the river to at least another five state schools to improve educational and life chances.
Supporting the application, planning committee member Cllr Jill Houlbrook (Con, Upton ) said: “The Dee is an integral part of our city and something of which we are all intensely proud but it has been under utilised for a long, long while.
"There are parts of the Dee which are really beautiful and there are parts of the Dee that are fantastic for rowing and canoeing on. My son years ago used to belong to the Scouts’ Canoe Club. Young people have fun, they get experience and they can get fit.”