In recent weeks, I have met with both representatives of the athletics club and South Wilts school governors to hear their perspectives about the future of the running track.
It is deeply troubling that the situation has, to date, not been resolved. I am clear that the club is an immensely valued institution in Salisbury, beloved by its members and a more than worthy ambassador for the city of Salisbury. By the same token, South Wilts is a superb school – one of the best in the south west – highly respected, well led and a responsible member of the community.
It is frustrating to see this kind of impasse in in a close knit community like Salisbury and I believe it does not show us in a good light.
The school has been working with Wiltshire Council and CoSARC since 2014 and, until 9th November, I was not aware of any discord. I have recently offered my services as an informal mediator and so, I understand, have the leaders of Wiltshire Council and Salisbury City Council.
Both parties are taking legal advice, so there is no further role anyone can play until that process has run its course. The track has a long history. At the beginning of 1995, when the school became Grant Maintained, all land and assets were transferred from Wilts CC to the school.
There is also an ongoing dispute over the ownership and use of the trackside building. The school has sought legal counsel and are clear on their ownership of the site but the club has received legal advice taking a different view.
South Wilts reasonably assert that as the track occupies a significant part of their site and looking after it attracts costs, which they bear, they have a legitimate interest in what happens on their land and how they are recompensed for that use. The school is clear that it has ownership of the whole site and therefore cannot transfer assets on it to a third party – a position that the club disputes.
I have sought assurances and have received clear confirmation that there is no secret plan to sell off or to repurpose the track. On the contrary, the land the track sits on is in planning terms designated playing fields and therefore protected from any development.
Nevertheless, both the club and the school accept that the track is in currently in need of renewal and an opportunity is coming up to leverage grants and redevelop it to competition standard. It would be a tragedy for Salisbury if that golden opportunity were lost due to this situation.
My door continues to be open to both parties and I very much hope that in the near future, they will be able to come together and find a way forward in the interests of the track and the city it serves.