Local track faces closure over funding cuts

An athletics track which was built after a decade-long fund-raising campaign by a leading Sunday Times sports journalist is set to close because of local authority cut-backs, a move described as “madness” by the father of one of Britain’s Beijing Olympic finallists.

Julie Rose was an outstanding young middle distance runner coached by Cliff Temple, the former athletics correspondent of the Sunday Times and an SJA member.

When Rose was killed in 1985 in an air crash while at university in the United States, Temple spent the final years of his life helping a campaign to raise money for a stadium to be named in her honour in Ashford to serve the East Kent area. Temple did not live to see the realisation of the campaign, which was fulfilled when the Julie Rose Stadium – with the Cliff Temple Grandstand – was opened in 1997.

But now Ashford Council is set to close the facility at the end of this month.

Protests are planned by local sports lobby groups at the track this evening, when their campaign to keep the sports facility open will be covered by local television.

Negotiations continue behind the scenes to keep the facility open as a local centre of excellence for athletes harbouring ambitions of competing at the 2012 Olympic Games.

David Hill, chief executive of Ashford Council, sought to distance the local authority from responsibility for the decision, saying that the stadium is run by the Julie Rose Trust Company. But an annual council grant that pays for the upkeep of the facility, if cut, would make future operation impossible.

“Since November 2008, the council has done everything it can to reach an agreement on the 2009-10 grant subsidy including several offers of increased funding. So far, every offer of support has been rejected by the JRSTCo,” Hill said today.

“The latest offer is for £96,600 and this remains on the table until March 31. This represents almost the same as last year’s grant, which was £97,000. In addition the council has offered to take on virtually all the Trust’s repairing liabilities. In the current financial climate this is a generous offer.

“It has become clear that the JRSTCo do not wish to comply with the conditions of its lease, which include opening, managing, promoting and securing funding for the stadium. Ashford council has a responsibility to council tax payers to use their money prudently and effectively and it is for these reasons that as part of the negotiations the JRSTCo has been asked to relinquish its lease in a timely manner.

“The current agreement between the JRSTCo and the Ashford Leisure Trust (ALT) for the operation of the stadium comes to an end on March 31, 2009. It is with regret that the JRSTCo has so far not been able to offer a contract agreement to ALT or any other operator to run the stadium. For this reason, the JRSTCo may decide to close the stadium.

“Ashford council hopes this will not be the case.”

But Mike Dobriskey, the father of local middle distance runner Lisa Dobriskey, the Commonwealth 1,500 metres champion who placed fourth in the Beijing Olympic final last year, said: “Closing a superb modern facility and depriving the local community of a wonderful sports track is just madness.

“As a direct result of the stadium my eldest daughter ran at the 2008 Olympic final, my youngest daughter threw the hammer for England and my two sons were given the opportunity to keep off the streets and excel to county level in sports that until they attended the stadium they didn’t even know they could do.

“The stadium has a loyal following of dedicated coaches and a group of young people who have decided that instead of sitting on the backsides on a games consol they will go out and do something that develops strength, personality, team-building skills and a competitive nature.”

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