RESIDENTS on a Croydon estate are being denied access to a £2 million community and sports hall because of a dispute between a school and the council.
Quest Academy wants to run the facilities, built alongside its new school building, and open them up for community use.
The council, which says it will not have the money to operate the centre itself until April at the earliest, has told the school it does not have the required experience.
Pip Burley, Quest's chairman of governors, described the claim as "absurd" and insisted the academy "has a much better chance of making it work" than if it is outsourced to a private company.
He explained that when the rebuild was being drawn up both sides agreed the sports centre would be run by the school, only for the authority to redraw the boundaries at the eleventh hour.
Nathan Elvery, the council's chief executive, later told Mr Burley the plans had changed after the authority received legal advice saying the management of the facility could not be handed over without going to competitive tender, a contract the school was unlikely to win because it lacked experience in running leisure facilities.
Quest has used the sports centre for PE lessons since the new building in Farnborough Avenue, Selsdon, opened in September, but is unable to make it available to the wider community.
Mr Burley says the school is willing to take on the estimated £100,000 yearly cost of running the facilities, but the council turned the offer down.
"To say we don't have enough experience is absurd," said Mr Burley. "It's not rocket science. You just need to put in a manager who knows what he is doing. You don't need to bring in a private company.
"What we are saying is lease us the sports centre and we will run it at no cost to the rate-payer.
"I believe we stand a lot better chance of making this work than Croydon does as a commercial operation.
"We're not in an antagonistic relationship with the council over this. We're in disagreement and believe our idea is better than theirs."
Monks Hill Over 50s Club is among the groups stuck in the middle of the disagreement. The club was told it could use the hall as its new home after Edgecombe Community Centre was knocked down. It has only been able to continue its weekly meeting thanks to the generosity of nearby St Francis Church.
Margaret Sharp, 74, who runs the club, said: "The council is letting an expensive new building go unused by the public when there are groups, like ours, which would love to use it."
Andy Stranack, a Heathfield councillor, has called on the school and council to find a solution.
"I'm concerned because the Over 50s Club and other groups are growing increasingly frustrated that they can't use what should be a great community facility," he said.
"I want to work with all parties to come up with a compromise as quickly as possible. It seems idiotic to have a £2 million building the community can't use."
Croydon Council said it was "eager" open up the sports centre to public use and was working toward an opening date of
"This allows time to ensure the centre will be run at the best possible standard and the facilities are set up correctly, with the welfare of the centre users an absolute priority," a spokesman said. "In the meantime focus groups and open days will be held to ensure community needs are met."