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‘Don’t make the same mistake again’, pleads councillor over town sports pitch plan

todayNovember 12, 2021

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Council chiefs risk repeating past mistakes if they press ahead with plans for a new artificial sports pitch in Gaywood, it was claimed yesterday.

The warning comes as borough leaders prepare to consider plans to provide hundreds of thousands of pounds towards the installation of a 3G facility at the River Lane site.

But the body responsible for overseeing protection of the site for recreational use has indicated it would only intervene if a development occupies most of the space.

King's Court, Borough Council of West Norfolk.. (49900631)
King’s Court, Borough Council of West Norfolk.. (49900631)

Proposals for the borough council to provide around £250,000 towards the cost of the 3G installation are due to be examined at a cabinet meeting next week.

So far, the authority appears to be resisting calls for an initial public consultation, insisting residents will be given the chance to have their say once a planning application is submitted.

A council spokesman said last night: “Consultation is part of the planning application stage and residents will be able to have their say on the plans at that stage.”

But Green Party councillor Michael de Whalley fears that stance risks a repeat of the U-turn the authority performed on its Parkway housing plans earlier this year, following widespread public opposition.

Mr de Whalley was among a group of councillors which urged the council’s administration to carry out a public consultation on the scheme last month, amid criticism from nearby residents. The council says that will be considered at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting.

And he said yesterday: “We have seen with various other proposals the council have come up with that they’ve gone headstrong into something without perhaps asking the community what they feel about it and those things haven’t turned out quite as well as they would have hoped for.

“It seems to me that if a community is starting to make waves about this, it behoves us, as a council, to consult.”

But Fields In Trust, which has overseen protection of the ground in recent years, is backing the council’s consultation approach.

A group spokesman said: “As artificial pitches require planning permission, we signpost residents to the planning process so they can express their support or opposition to a proposed development.

“Our guidance, Watch this Space, gives them advice on the planning process and how best to organise a local campaign.”

Opponents of the proposal are also worried that it could potentially exclude people from using the site at all.

Mr de Whalley argued the public would have believed the Fields In Trust designation meant “it’s going to be available to everybody, forever more.”

He added: “If you build a new football pitch, fenced off, it’s no longer available to everybody.”

But the spokesman said the protection was against “non-recreational development” and did not mean there would never be change.

He added: “As artificial pitches are recreational and our deed leaves ownership and management in local hands, including determining the recreational mix on spaces, they do not require our consent, unless they take up the majority of a space.

“The same would be true of a skatepark or pump track as just two examples. We remain neutral and neither support or oppose new outdoor sporting and recreational facilities in these situations.”

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