FEARS have been raised that a community building which has lain empty for nearly three years could be lost to redevelopment.
The former home of the now defunct Waterside Sports and Social Club in Holbury was raised at a meeting of New Forest District Council when assurances were sought over its future.
The site includes a theatre and social club, plus football, cricket, tennis and bowls facilities. It is owned by ExxonMobil subsidiary Esso, which runs Fawley oil refinery on the other side of the A326 Long Lane.
Although the sports pitches are still used, the building itself (pictured) was closed after the club went bust in late 2016. Holbury Community Sports Association was formed to help keep activity alive in the area, under licence from Esso.
Cllr Malcom Wade, the Liberal Democrat member for Butts Ash and Dibden Purlieu, questioned the Conservative cabinet member for leisure and wellbeing, Cllr Mark Steele, on how the site could be protected for community use.
Cllr Wade said: “The previous holder of his post committed that it would remain in public use by those in Hardley and elsewhere, just before it was shuttered.
“It is looking increasingly dilapidated and sorry for itself, and local people are particularly worried about the loss of the leisure facility to potential development.”
He pointed out that the building also contained a theatre and he asked what NFDC was doing to defend cultural facilities on the Waterside, as well as sport.
Cllr Steele replied: “I agree it does look increasingly dilapidated and local people are worried. It’s in the centre of the neighbourhood and adds to the feeling that the area is being ignored.”
He could not give reassurances over the future of the building. But he said the sporting designation of the land meant there was a presumption against development without anything to take its place.
Cllr Steele said NFDC would keep a “watching brief” on the situation, adding: “There’s a shortfall of open space in the district so we will continue working with local organisations to ensure access continues.
“The theatre remains closed and there’s no alternative provision on the Waterside.”
Clubs using the site include Fawley AFC, Fawley Cricket Club, Waterside Tennis Club and Waterside Bowling Club.
Esso recently won permission from NFDC for portable cabins at the site to house new changing rooms, showers and toilets. And Fawley AFC had their season saved when ExxonMobil stepped in with £16,000 to pay the bulk of fixing floodlights, as a requirement to stay in the league.
ExxonMobil said in a statement: “We are working closely with the newly formed Holbury Community Sports Association (HCSA) which consists of football, cricket, bowls and tennis sections.
“Currently HCSA has a short-term licence to use the sports and changing facilities. However, Esso and HCSA are looking forward to working together for the long-term once all works are completed.
“We are continuing to review options with regards to the main club buildings.”