Thursday, 24 May 2018

Sports clubs cry foul over £100,000 grant to Hawks

SPORT clubs in Henley have hit out at the way the town council gives out grants.

SPORT clubs in Henley have hit out at the way the town council gives out grants.

The criticism comes after Henley Rugby Club was awarded £200,000 with half as a loan and half as a grant.

Now other clubs have said they should be treated equally.

Trevor Howell, chairman of AFC Henley, said he was “a bit shocked” by the size of the amount given to the Hawks.

“It does make you think there is some favouritism for the rugby club when basically they’re a professional club,” he said.

“I know they have a children’s operation similar to ours but I do not know why public money would go to a commercial organisation. Historically my problem with the council and funding is they don’t exactly broadcast what the limits are. We’re not sure of the criteria and what you’re allowed to apply for.”

“All we know is the finance committee meets twice a year and anyone can submit an application, as we have done on several occasions.

“We got £6,000 towards the pavilion in Harpsden.

“I’m sure all the sports clubs share the view there should be a rationale for us to understand.”

He said that his club could apply, for example, for £250,000 for a new artificial pitch. “Someone said to me we should apply for £50,000 because we could find a reason to use it,” said Mr Howell.

Chris Baker, president of Henley Hockey Club, said: “We have never asked to borrow any money off the council but in the future that won’t be so.

“The amount they have handed out means they have set a precedent and if there is ever a time when we need some money, we can expect an equivalent response.

“If they turned to me and say I can’t have £100,000 after giving the rugby club £100,000, I would be upset.

“Whether it’s fair or not I can’t say. I would imagine a few clubs will want to borrow and go in with the same thought in mind.”

Kim Chapman, chairman of Henley Town Football Club, said he had submitted a grant application for £10,000 last month.

The money would go towards a new supporters’ stand at the club’s Triangle Ground, off Mill Lane. The club is required to have the stand if it is promoted from the Hellenic League Division One at the end of this season . It is currently in second place.

If Henley were promoted but the stand was not built then they would have to either forfeit their promotion or play their home games elsewhere.

The Red Kites would also be required to extend their seated stand from 64 to 100 seats but they would pay for this themselves.

Mr Chapman said: “The council asked us to come up with a five-year plan and work with AFC Henley, which we have done.

“We have had meetings with the council and were told they had £4million in the bank and then we went to another meeting and were told they had nothing. I was flabbergasted. Then I read the rugby club had been given £200,000.

“Everybody should be treated equally for grants whether it is £500, £2,000 or £200,000.

“I’ve got nothing against the rugby club. They do some great community work with the kids there but I do believe every club should be supported fairly. Going forward we may be in a great position for promotion and we need help from the council.”

Brian Kenworthy, chairman of Henley Cricket Club, said: “The council was very kind to the cricket club when we bought our ground from Brakspear, although we’re still in the process of paying back our loan.”

Henley Rugby Club has been trying to raise £475,000 for renovation of its clubhouse. It has also been awarded a £100,000 grant by South Oxfordshire District Council with the rest coming through fund-raising and donations.

The work will include new toilets, a kitchen and bar as well as seating for 200 diners.

Councillor Will Hamilton, chairman of the council’s finance, strategy and management committee, said the council was reviewing the procedure and criteria for grant applications.

He said: “A new grants procedure will be put in place. It will resolve the way we give grants. For example, we give a grant towards the Henley Summer Fireworks but they give thousands to charities around the town. Why should we give taxpayer money to them to pass on to someone else?

“Grant applications are evaluated by all councillors on their merits and this will continue.”

David Nimmo Smith, leader of the ruling Conservative group on the council, said: “We knew the rugby club had been planning their work for three or four years. If other clubs are doing similar things or want us to look at their operations, we’re open to offers.

“It was in our manifesto that we want to do things for the sports clubs in the town.”

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