Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Water sports centre refused request to waive loan interest

A WATER sports centre in Henley will continue paying interest on a £120,000 loan from the town council despite a request to waive it.

The Eyot Centre, which is used by community groups including Henley Canoe Club, the sea cadets and the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, wanted to put the savings towards a new £100,000 slipway and landing stage at the centre off Wargrave Road.

But the council, which agreed the loan in 2007, said it couldn’t waive the three per cent interest as it had previously declined similar requests and had to be fair to all its debtors.

Members of the council’s finance strategy and management committee supported the new slipway in principle but argued the club should exhaust other funding options.

The centre, which has existed in various forms for 60 years, borrowed the money for a rebuild with another £100,000 coming from grants from Sport England and South Oxfordshire District Council and fund-raising events.

The new building was offially re-opened by the Duke of Kent in 2008.

The centre agreed to pay back the town council’s loan over 25 years and currently has an outstanding balance of £72,000.

Not having to pay the interest would have saved £2,160.

Trustees say the existing slipway is in poor condition due to erosion and this will get worse as the number of users increases.

They also want to create an access for people with limited mobility, replace the upper launch and landing stage, stabilise the dragon boat slip area and install a permanent landing stage with steps.

They also want to lay new paths and install metal piling to strengthen the bank so that it lasts at least another 40 years. The proposal has been given planning permission by Wokingham Borough Council.

The new slipway would also be used by Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service’s water rescue unit. This would improve response times in Henley as its existing launch points are at Willow Lane in Wargrave and Ferry Lane in Aston.

Richard Parham, secretary of the Eyot Centre, told councillors that the work must be done this year or it will have to cut the number of activities.

He said a few people had injured themselves getting in and out of the water and this situation couldn’t continue.

The centre was also seeking a loan reduction as the council only awards major grants in the autumn and this would be too late.

It has earmarked some of its own funds for the work and applied to the district council for a grant while the Thamesfield Youth Association, which holds the lease on the premises from Oxfordshire County Council, has pledged £10,000.

The association may also offer an £18,000 interest-free bridging loan and it may be possible to raise a further £5,000 from supporters. However, spending this on the slipway and riverbank would delay additional plans to install new boat sheds.

Councillor Will Hamilton said: “What you do is fantastic and I’m fully supportive of a grant but I have a problem with changing the terms we negotiated on the loan.”

Councillor Jane Smewing, who chairs the committee, said the centre should continue pursuing the bridging loan and district council grant and return to the town council if this didn’t work out.

She said: “We really don’t want to amend your loan because we haven’t done it for other clubs and we should stick to our agreements.”

The centre is also used by the Henley Dragons dragon boat racing club, the town’s scouts, cubs and brownies and about a dozen schools in the Henley area.

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