Wakefield’s Thornes Park Stadium: Pontefract athletes ‘missing out’ in £1.5m revamp

An athletics club has accused Wakefield Council of “wasting” money by spending £1.5m to replace the city’s running track.

Claims have also been made that athletes based in Pontefract are being “ignored” over plans for major a upgrade of Wakefield’s Thornes Park Stadium .

In November 2022, the local authority’s cabinet members agreed to spend £1.5 to replace the “crumbling” athletics track and install new floodlights to keep the facility up to England Athletics standards.

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Cyril Jones, chairman of Pontefract Athletic Club, said track and field athletes based in the east of the district will not benefit from the scheme.

More than £500,000 worth of damage was caused by a fire at Thornes Park Stadium in February 2020.More than £500,000 worth of damage was caused by a fire at Thornes Park Stadium in February 2020.
More than £500,000 worth of damage was caused by a fire at Thornes Park Stadium in February 2020.

Mr Jones said he had urged the council not to go ahead with upgrade, which is expected to start later this year, and instead distribute the money more evenly across the district.

The track at Thornes Park has been in place since 1991 and is the only public athletics facility in the Wakefield district.

Mr Jones said: “The council has claimed that the athletics facility at Thornes Park Stadium is an asset for the whole of the district.

“But it is of no use to Pontefract Athletics Club.

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“It is very annoying to see so much money being wasted on a facility that many athletes will not benefit from.

“It is too far for members to travel twice a week for training in addition to the travelling that they have to do for competitions.”

More than £500,000 worth of damage was caused to the site in a suspected arson attack in February 2020.

Funding was then approved to pay for partial repairs to allow the stadium to reopen.

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Mr Jones said there was not enough capacity to accommodate Pontefract athletes at Thornes Park as it used by other athletics clubs.

The track is also used by many schools for annual athletics competitions and activities such as disability tri-cycling.

Mr Jones said Pontefract Athletics Club members will instead continue to use the track at the Dorothy Hyman Sports Centre, in Barnsley, for training sessions.

Mr Jones added: “There are only two competitive athletics clubs in the district, Wakefield Harriers and Pontefract Athletics Club.

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“The Council is proposing to spend £1.5m on facilities for one of them and is not spending a penny on facilities for the other club.

“It is wrong that Pontefract Athletics Club members have to travel out of the district to use facilities provided by another local authority.”

Mr Jones also said athletes in the east of the district had been “deprived” of £350,000 over a decision to build houses on the former Hemsworth Athletics Stadium.

Hemsworth Town Council has previously said a developer should have paid the sum in Section 106 agreement money when the homes plan was approved last year.

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Section 106 agreements are paid by developers when they build homes, to help fund local infrastructure.

The developer instead paid £50,000 for replacement sports facilities in the area.

Julie Russell, service director for arts, culture and leisure, said: “We are in a very fortunate position to still be able to offer a public athletics facility when many other councils are not.

“That’s why we have made the decision to invest in a high-quality specialist facility at a single venue that is made available to the whole district.

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“The significant investment to update the outdoor athletics facility at Thornes Park Stadium is a clear commitment from us to maintain and grow a strong athletics offer for clubs, schools and disability groups from across the district.

“We’ve been in discussions with the club(s) and the governing bodies over the last few years on a sustainable approach to facilities, and to enable access as best we can within the resources we have available.”

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