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Plea to keep dry ski slope

A decision will be made this month

Exeter City Council’s Place Scrutiny Committee on Thursday night after a four and a half hour meeting voted to recommend to the council’s executive to exclude the ski slope from the land that would be put up for sale, but that the green open space should still be included, although with 10 per cent of it to be retained.

The sale of the land could generate in the region of £9m and the funds would be used to offset the previously agreed costs of compensation, upgrades to leisure facilities and to provide investment for other council priorities including the future development and improvement of other leisure sites.

Clifton Hill Sport Centre, built in 1984, had been shut since March due to heavy snowfall which caused a major leak in the roof, and the council has previously voted to permanently close the centre.

Cllr Phil Bialyk, Portfolio Holder for Health and Wellbeing, Communities and Sport, was grilled by from residents and councillors who asked a record-breaking 41 questions on the proposals.

He said on numerous occasions that the council did not wish to lose the ski club, and would engage in discussions for a new state-of-the-art virtual ski centre to be part of the plans for a new community sports village at the Exeter Arena site.

But users and instructors of the ski club implored the council to reconsider as ‘virtual skiing is not the same’.

Susie Kroger said that her 21-year-old son, who has Downs Syndrome and a visual impairment, has been attending the skiing session for disabled skiers on a Friday evening for 10 years. She said: “He has gained confidence, balance, core stability and skills in a hobby that he has grown to love. It plays such an important pair in his life, providing exercise he so needs for his ongoing health, and has enriched his life to no end. There is no similar resource for disabled skiers in neighbouring counties he could access.”

Miss Armstrong said that if the ski slope land was sold, it would have a disproportiate effect on disabled citizens of Exeter and other groups who may not be able to access the unique facilities, as the nearest ski slope is Torquay and the nearest disabled ski facilities are in Gloucester.

She added: “Shutting down the ski centre would be cutting down on the range of disabled facilities available in Exeter at a time when the importance of these is increasingly recognised for mental and physical wellbeing.

“Virtual skiing is not the same as real outside skiing at all. The city should be proud to have skiing as an activity, and the ski slope is an asset for the city. You should come and see the ski club as I don’t think they know we exist.”

Jane Cross said: “Once a facility is lost, it is rarely replaced. The council should respect the residents of Exeter and Devon who depend on the provision of the ski centre.”

Rebecca Grimwood said that her main reason for becoming a ski instructor was that she really wanted to help people with disabilities to ski and that as an occupational therapist there are many benefits to skiing for adaptive skiers.

She added: “There is no other sport that offers the same opportunities for people with disabilities. My daughter has galactosmeia and cerebral palsy and benefits hugely from attending adaptive skiing on a Friday night. Adaptive skiing has helped her to develop gross motor and fine motor skills, balance, co-ordination, social skills, confidence, and emotional wellbeing.

“Virtual skiing would be inappropriate and if this was to close, it would be detrimental for people with disabilities.”

But calls from residents to stop any more than a minimum of 10 per cent of the green space from being sold off were rejected.

Dr Ginny Russell said: “The proposed green plot is not of sufficient size to support its current wonderful biodiverse ecology, nor will the position of the proposed plot be effective in maintaining its role as a crucial wildlife corridor between the green areas at Belmont and Ladysmith.”

Aimee Beckett said: “Selling off green land shouldn’t be the way of filling in the finances when things get tough. You need to think about this as once it is gone, it is gone forever.”

Cllr Chris Musgrave had added: “The green space must be protected and more houses are just not the answer as it is green space that the residents want.”

Cllr Matthew Vizard added: “I accept that we are not selling this land without cause, as the housing need for Exeter is considerable, it is about the future of our leisure facilities, and also about the environment and green space, and the balance needs to be right, and it is not right at the moment. Once the land is gone, it is gone.”

A recommendation from Cllr Kevin Mitchell, who said that even though he was opposed to the closure of Clifton Hill, that the committee recommends excluding the ski slope and all of the green open space from the land for sale failed to get a seconder.

Eventually, a proposal from Cllr Wood to exclude the sell the Clifton Hill site (excluding the ski slope site) for a mixed residential development to generate the best value capital receipt to offset the previously agreed costs of compensation, upgrades to leisure facilities and to provide investment for other Council priorities including the future development and improvement of other leisure sites found support from the committee and is the recommendation made to the executive.

The council’s executive meets on February 12, before making a final recommendation to full council.

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