Decision makers at Bracknell Forest Council have been accused of showing favouritism to sports facilities over arts facilities in the wake of their refusal to support the South Hill Park Trust.

Councillor Mary Temperton (Labour, Great Hollands North) clashed with Cllr Paul Bettison OBE, the leader of the council (Conservative, Little Sandhurst and Wellington) over its refusal to support the South Hill Park Trust.

At a meeting in June, Bracknell Forest Council’s executive committee chose to reject the South Hill Park Trust’s request to guarantee their pension scheme.

Yet, at the same meeting, the executive committee decided to continue to financially support Everyone Active, the council’s private leisure contractor, which runs Bracknell Sports & Leisure Centre, Downshire Golf Course and Coral Reef Waterworld.

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Cllr Temperton has accused the Conservative executive of a “huge discrepancy” between their support of the South Hill Park Trust and everyone active.

She said: “I sincerely hope South Hill Park Trust will be able to arrange to meet this commitment. It’s a very very special place for many many residents and if the Trust fails, another arts provider is unlikely to be found. I think it was four years ago that the council organised an independent consultant to review the running of the arts centre. Councillors were all involved in these discussions. The recommended outcome was that a trust was the best way of running this centre, as it has too small an income to attract other art providers. Most would want a very much larger theatre.

“This was before Covid and many such art providers have now folded. I don’t think grounds and premises provide the arts. I would also like to say that the Labour group and many many other residents note with concern the huge discrepancy between the support offered to the private business Everyone Active providing sports facilities, and that offered to the charity South Hill Park providing arts facilities. Emotional wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing.”

Bracknell News: South Hill Park. Picture by Camera Club member Linda PaxtonSouth Hill Park. Picture by Camera Club member Linda Paxton

Responding to her statements, Cllr Bettison said: “I hear what the councillor said, and I fully respect the reasons why she’s saying it, but I think to try and draw any comparison between what she calls ‘help’ given to Everyone Active and the help that was denied to the South Hill Park Trust, there is no comparison.

“Everyone Active pays us £1.3m a year for the privilege the sports facilities as she calls them, whereas we pay among others just our contribution to the South Hill Park Trust is already £194k plus the gardening and maintenance of the grounds that we do, plus the use of the building, so we’re already paying out to South Hill Park Trust every single year. The investment that the council made in Everyone Active was to keep Everyone Active in a position to continue paying us £1.3m a year, so you can’t really compare the two.

“Also Everyone Active’s problems were purely the result of the pandemic. The contributions that need to be made to the South Hill Park Trust’s pension fund have been accruing for many years, so I’m afraid that there really isn’t a direct comparison to be made.”

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The executive committee has justified the financial support to Everyone Active by stating that it has allowed activities to reopen. Financial support packages to Everyone Active were despatched in April and July 2020 and March 2021.

The amount of support agreed in June this year has not been determined yet, and will only be determined once usage and income data becomes available.

Previously, the council estimated it would spend approximately £2.39 million to £2.49 million up to April 2021 on a package supporting Everyone Active which was agreed in July 2020.