Quarry Bank was cheated out of park gym by former council chiefs, new leader claims

Stourbridge News: Left to right - Vilma Griffin, cllr Bryan Cotterill, Bob Davies and cllr David Sparks. Buy photo: 341264L Buy this photo » Left to right - Vilma Griffin, cllr Bryan Cotterill, Bob Davies and cllr David Sparks. Buy photo: 341264L

THE opening of a new park gym in Quarry Bank marks the end of a long fight for keep fit equipment which campaigners say they were cheated out of by Tory council chiefs.

Around £4.5m was awarded by the Department of Health for the Dudley Healthy Towns project to encourage overweight families in less affluent areas to fight the flab.

But instead of allocating the money to areas with the highest poverty and obesity levels, Dudley’s former Conservative controlled council splashed some of the cash in the poshest part of the borough, according to new council leader - councillor David Sparks.

The Quarry Bank cllr, who took the helm in May when Labour gained control of the council, said former ruling Tories decided to create healthy hubs in each of the five area committee patches rather than in areas most in need of free-to-use fitness equipment.

The decision saw outdoor gyms and community hubs installed in five borough parks - including Mary Stevens in wealthy Norton.

Quarry Bank's Stevens Park was missed off the list to become a healthy hub - even though it falls in the middle of a corridor with high levels of obesity and deprivation.

Cllr Sparks believes the Thorns Road park should have been a prime contender for the cash over the leafy Stourbridge beauty spot which he claims bagged the fitness facility because council bosses at the time stated Mary Stevens had the highest number of visitors from two-car families.

The statistic, he says, reflected the affluence of the Norton ward - not a greater need for exercise among its residents.

He said: “The Labour government allocated a massive amount of money that local authorities could bid for to combat things like heart disease by getting people to do more exercise.

“Dudley Council was successful in its healthy towns bid because of statistical evidence that Dudley as a borough was relatively unhealthy.

“But Dudley decided to allocate the healthy towns equipment according to geography - not need.

“This resulted in areas such as Mary Stevens Park getting the equipment. It was such blatant manipulation.”

The cllr, chairman of the Friends of Quarry Bank Park group, said since becoming council leader he has made changes which will mean “Mary Stevens is going to be treated like every other park”.

He added: “Area committees are going to change so you won’t be able to make that kind of decision again.”

Deputy leader of Dudley Conservatives, cllr Tim Wright, defended the party’s decision, saying: "The healthy hubs are for all residents in the borough, not just those in deprived areas.

“There are people who are overweight and unfit in areas that are affluent as well as disadvantaged parts of the borough. “It’s only fair that the money was split equally between all areas and all townships.”

Cllr Sparks said the new gym in Stevens Park had only come to fruition following a hard-fought campaign by the Friends group, which included a plea to former Secretary of State for Health - Andy Burnham.

At yesterday’s official opening of the facility, he said it has already been used heavily since it was installed two months ago.

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