PLAYING FIELDS: Football club denies ‘land grab’ as it gets permission to fence off pitches
A football club whose junior teams are said to be unable to use playing fields leased from the council because of dog muck and broken glass has been given permission to fence some of it off.
Guisborough Town Football Club intends to erect a three foot high fence around two pitches at the King George V playing fields, near to Howlbeck Road, Guisborough, while enhanced security and lighting could also be put in place.
It has rejected accusations of a “land grab” by some local residents fearing the loss of green space.
Objectors spoke at a meeting of Redcar and Cleveland Council’s regulatory committee, which approved an application by the club for the wire fence.
Council planners had recommended approval with a report prepared for committee members stating that the land to be enclosed – which will reduce the open space at the playing fields from 4.47 hectares to 2.78 hectares – would be managed by the club.
The report said: “Guisborough Town Football Club consider the enclosure of the land will enable them to provide good, safe football pitches for children and adults in Guisborough and will prevent damage from inappropriate informal uses – cars and motorbikes – dog fouling and littering.
“[The club] consider such uses have resulted in damage to the land in the past.”
‘Pitches are unfit’
Councillor Alma Thrower, from Guisborough Town Council, said it supported the application.
She said: “At present the pitches are unfit because of dog fouling, litter, including broken glass, and vehicles being driven across it.
“The football club is trying to improve the ground where the pitches are, which need protecting for the safety of all players and for them to have a decent surface to play on.”
Councillor Bill Clark, a Guisborough ward member on the borough council, also lent his support.
Cllr Clark, who did not vote on the application, said the plans were aimed at providing “first class professionally run football facilities eventually for residents of all ages, sex and ability”.
He said: “This will benefit the community and improve fitness levels and help the fight against obesity, and bring all levels of the community together in a centre of excellence.
“The football club will improve the playing surface of the pitches and allow the use of them for other teams not associated with the club in a managed process.
“The pitches will be cleaned and cleared of various detritus.”
Cllr Clark said the club was currently using other much more expensive facilities at the Laurence Jackson school in the town.
Local resident Stephen Morgan said he had lived adjacent to the field for 20 years and there was a deficit of green space in Guisborough.
He said: “The full extent of opposition to this application has not been fully expressed by the public due to the way it has been presented.
“The case presented by the applicant contains contentious and false information presented as fact.
“The benefit to the club of the fencing would be marginal, whereas the impact on the wider public would be hugely detrimental.”
He said the three metre fence would have a huge visual impact on the area and urged the committee to reject the application.
‘Visually intrusive eyesore’
Sport England, a statutory consultee, had opposed the plans, while representations received by the council as part of a public consultation referred to the playing fields being “gifted to the public as recreation land for the benefit of all”, not just for a “private, profit-making football club”.
One comment said: “It is a cheap acquisition of land and a land grab.”
Another said: “[The] fence will be a visually intrusive eyesore.”
The council report described the King George V playing fields as the most significant urban green space in Guisborough with a multi-functional use and also containing play areas, tennis courts, a bowling green and indoor swimming pool.
It said there were no grounds to refuse the fence plans, adding: “The ensuing reduction of primary public open space would not result in the supply in the town and the ward falling below the current minimum quantity standards and there is potential to retain existing uses on the application site and on the surrounding land.”
On the fence itself the report said: “It is considered the proposed siting, scale, height, and design of the fencing is acceptable in this location and will not materially harm the character and appearance of the [open space] and its surroundings.”
Planning consultant Paul Robinson, speaking on behalf of the club, referred to ongoing anti-social behaviour as the football pitches were not well-lit.
He said: “This is not a land grab as has been suggested as the club already leases the land [from the council].
“The objective here is to improve sporting facilities in the town and to do this the pitches in question need to be improved as they are inadequate and dangerous.”
Mr Robinson said a grant would pay for replacing the surface of the pitches, the sub-base and the drainage.
He said the pitches at the King George V playing fields were currently used by the senior side’s reserves to warm up and occasionally by a local Sunday league side, but were not suitable for juniors.
He added: “Put simply, more people will be able to use the pitches more often.
“We cannot allow the juniors to play there under the current circumstances.”
A statement read out from Chris Wood, the football club’s junior secretary, said it had 30 different junior teams comprising 400 young people.
He said: “To sustain our community growth the club needs regular access to high quality pitches, and despite the comments, these are not available at the King George playing fields right now.”
Councillor Anne Watts asked if the football club would decide who gets to play in the fenced off area.
In response, council planning chief Adrian Miller said the land was “under licence” to the football club and at the moment people were free to walk across it and use it for recreation, but when enclosed he confirmed it would be under the direct management of the football club.
He said, if approved, the fence would lead to a “re-purposing” of the open space, although this was not sufficiently prejudicial to justify refusing planning permission.
Cllr Watts said: “I am very concerned that we have this large area that is going to be taken out of use for children from poor backgrounds, those simply wanting a kickabout.
“Some children have nowhere to go, I think it is disgraceful.”
But most other councillors on the committee were in favour of the plans.
‘Centre of excellence’
Councillor Mary Ovens said: “All of our school [playing fields] have in the past had to be fenced off for the same reasons, particularly dog dirt.
“We don’t have enough dog wardens to be on patrol all the time and catch these irresponsible people.
“This would fit in with existing facilities in that area and make it a bit of a centre of excellence.
“Looking at the land around it there are plenty of opportunities to make an informal kickabout area.”
Councillor Stuart Smith, who is chairman of the committee, said he could not see any negative impact arising from the fence going up.
He said: “There is still adequate space on the King George V playing fields for people to walk their dogs and have a kickabout.
“We have a duty of care to our residents and the younger generation who want to play sport.
“By putting a fence up we will be protecting them from dog fouling and the dangers of broken glass, and allowing them to play in a safe environment.”
The objection from Sport England will mean the approved application will have to be referred to the Secretary of State for further consideration.
Words: Local Democracy Reporter
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