A DECISION to upgrade the Basingstoke ice rink that would keep Bison out of the 2023-24 season has sparked mixed reactions from opposition political leaders.

While they said the refurbishment of the ice rink is “long overdue”, opposition leaders including Cllr Andrew McCormick, Cllr Gavin James and Cllr Paul Harvey said they have “a number of fundamental questions” about the upgrade plans.

Planet Ice, which operates the Basingstoke ice rink, confirmed on Wednesday, April 5, that Basingstoke Bison will not be competing in the 2023-24 season.

The plan is to put together a team to compete in the 2024-25 season after the completion of works at the rink, Planet Ice announced.

READ MORE: Bison to skip next season as Basingstoke Planet Ice plans upgrade work

Basingstoke Bison played their last game of the season at Planet Ice Basingstoke on Sunday, April 9, as they suffered a defeat against Leeds Knights.

Reacting to the announcement, Labour leader, Cllr McCormick said: “While the £3m refurbishment of the ice rink is long overdue, with the ice rink 35 years old this year, the communications have been handled extremely badly.

“The Ice Users Forum appear unhappy. We would have preferred to have seen a temporary rink constructed, we were not short of sites across Basingstoke, but there was a lack of will to make the necessary commitments, financial and otherwise, to make this happen.”

LibDem leader, Cllr Gavin James said: “We share their views about inconsistencies between what Planet Ice and the council leader are saying. We also share their suspicions on why he’s only speaking out in public during the election period, having remained silent for long enough to duck public scrutiny throughout last year. It all feels very rushed and at the last minute.”

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Basingstoke and Deane Independent group leader, Cllr Paul Harvey said: “This is a complete mess yet again of the Conservatives making – another sport in Basingstoke they’ve badly let down. The current council administration has had more than enough time to sort out the Ice Rink and ensure the lease/operator were fulfilling their obligations to keep the Ice Rink maintained to the required standard.”

The opposition leaders also said they want answers about when the work is due to start, what is the nature of the work and whether will it be enough.

They said in a joint statement: “With permafrost being identified, that [need for long-term solution] sounds really fundamental. The rink will have to be removed and work done underneath it, yet assurances appear to be made that the ice will be available to some of the users?

“It is not a good thing for the rink or the Bisons team that they will not be competing at all for the 2023/24 season. There will be a loss of seasonal revenue, presumably, players will still need to be paid, and even if they’re loaned out to other teams for a season, there’s no guarantee they will come back.

“As leaders of the opposition groups, we’re 100 per cent committed to the ice rink being a fundamental part of the leisure park and Basingstoke’s sports provision going forward. We’re not sure the same can be said about the current Conservative administration.”

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Previously, Basingstoke and Deane Borough council leader Simon Minas-Bound welcomed the news and called it “a great decision”.

He said: “We have long wanted to end uncertainty over the future of the much-loved ice rink and share the frustration felt by ice rink users about how long this has taken. Negotiations with Planet Ice are near their conclusion, and we are confident in reaching legal agreement for the repairs and improvements as a valued part of the leisure park.

“The borough council is the owner of the park but the ice rink is not a council-run facility. The rink building has been leased on long-term basis since 2000. Under a lease that requires them to keep the building in good repair.

“The council has been working closely with the operator Planet Ice to understand the works being planned, with a start date expected after the end of the ice hockey season in May.”