Anger at derelict state of former Thorpe sports site

A tragedy - that is how community leaders have described the current derelict state of a former popular sports and leisure centre which closed two and a half years ago, forcing hundreds of users and clubs to find other facilities.

The Pinebanks sports and leisure facility, formerly owned by Norwich Union, now Aviva, was put in the market in April 2008 despite calls for the community for leisure use to be retained on the site off Harvey Lane, Thorpe St Andrew.

The move meant hundreds of people who had played football, hockey, badminton and squash at the site for years to find alternative sites to enjoy their sport.

But more than two years after the centre finally closed its doors, in August 2008, the site remains empty and unused.

A fence has been installed outside the building, but the all-weather sports pitches that were once full of footballers and hockey players are now just a magnet for moss.

It is understood the site, which was marketed by Savills after it was sold, has been bought by London-based developers Ocubis Ltd.

And Calls have today been made for developers to come clean about plans for a popular former sports and leisure site three years after it was put on the market.

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Opposition to the closure of Pinebanks had support from community leaders including the former mayor of Norwich Roy Blower.

Mr Blower, Norwich City Council's very first sports champion, said it was a 'tragedy' that the site had been allowed to remain empty for as long as it has.

He said: 'It's a tragedy really when the government is encouraging people to take part in sport. We're looking to urge people not to become hooligans and become involved in sport and so it's sad that these facilities are not being used.

'As sports champion for Norwich I find it totally unacceptable and am really sickened to see these facilities lying there not doing anything.'

Mr Blower, who is not seeking re-election as University ward councillor at next month's city council elections, first played table tennis at Pinebanks more than 40 years ago. He said he hoped the site did not follow in the footsteps of the former Civil Service sports club at Eaton which became derelict after closing about a decade ago.

Pinebank' closure has been followed by the closure of Wensum Lodge on King Street, a popular venue for squash and badminton players, which was one of the first casualties of council cutbacks following the coalition government's spending review.

Other former members of Pinebanks have also expressed their disappointment and frustration that the site has been left empty for two-and-a-half years.

John Butler, 67, from Bracon Ash, near Norwich, was a member of Pinebanks who played squash and hockey at the site for a number of years.

He said he understood the rationale behind the insurance giant's decision to sell the site at the time they did, but is unhappy with the lack of progress since then.

He said: 'It's a tragedy the way it's been treated following that. I think Norwich Union could've sponsored or helped someone to maintain it as a sports facility. The disappointment for me is that they just turned their back on it and it's now a dilapidated wreck.'

Mr Butler, who now plays squash at the UEA and hockey with the Norwich Dragons, who will have a new pitch ready at the Hewett School in May, said he fears it will stay as it is until it gets planning permission for housing.

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP, said: 'It's a great shame to see the site lying unused. I'm a keen sports player myself and play badminton at a club with people that used to play at Pinebanks. It's clearly a place that Norwich people have a great soft spot for and I would like to see a solution to it.'

Thorpe St Andrew Town Council considered buying up the land at the time it was put up for sale, but could not afford to.

Steven Ford, clerk at Thorpe St Andrew Town Council, said the council is keen to see the site put back to good use.

He said: 'The general loss of sporting facilities like Pinebanks and Wensum Lodge has added to the tremendous pressure to our existing sports facilities which are now at capacity.

'The site has been derelict now for two years and we hope that we learn something soon about its future and hope that whatever its future is it will mean extra sports facilities are made available in Thorpe St Andrew.'

The Evening News called Ocubis Ltd but no-one was available for comment.

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