THE Lower Clarence will soon lose its only indoor sporting facility.

At an extraordinary meeting of the Clarence Valley Council in Grafton yesterday, councillors voted unanimously against buying the Wherrett Park Squash and Sports Centre, but to explore the possibility of providing a purpose-built indoor facility somewhere on the Lower Clarence.

Centre owner, Ross McPherson, who wants to sell the centre so he can retire, said he was disappointed with council's decision.

He has received offers for the property from the Mareeba Nursing Home, but hoped the council would buy it so it could continue as a sports centre.

He said he intended to advise agents yesterday that he would accept the Mareeba offer.

He was uncertain how long the centre would remain open for sport.

Each councillor who spoke during yesterday's meeting said they supported the retention of an indoor sports facility on the Lower Clarence, but many questioned the 'premium' price sought.

The council resolved to advise the owners it was not in a position to buy the property, to endeavour to secure an agreement that would allow the McPhersons to lease the property from Mareeba and continue to use it as a sports facility until the end of 2006, and to identify alternative sites for a new centre.

It is unlikely, however, that the McPhersons will be interested in leasing the facility so it can continue as a sports centre. n Continued: P5. n Editorial: P6.

nFrom P1.

Immediately after the meeting, Mr McPherson said he wanted to retire, not to find another way of operating the business.

"I am not going to lease it," he said.

"The council has known about this for three months but has only showed any interest in the past week."

Lower Clarence Sports Council president, Jim Simmons, said he was disgusted.

"This is a disgraceful decision," he said.

"Council should have bought it. It was being offered under reasonable conditions ... there was another buyer interested in it at that price, so it was at market value."

Mr Simmons, a former councillor on the Maclean Shire Council, said his former council had the funds to buy the centre, but believed most of that money had been dispersed during the amalgamation process.

Cr Chris Gulaptis said he supported moves to provide facilities, but the council needed to be fiscally responsible.

"The report (from council officers) says the purchase price is at a premium because of the interest of Mareeba," he said.

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