WOKING Borough Council’s plans to ‘bulldoze’ a natural habitat at Goldsworth Park – to accommodate another two football pitches in addition to the seven already in the recreation area – has met massive opposition.
Last week the News & Mail reported how angry residents had set up a petition to protect the North Meadow site.
This quickly gained momentum, receiving more than 1,100 signatures in a month as this edition went to press.
Users of the open space, to the north of Goldsworth Park Lake, include walkers, cyclists and runners, 850 of whom signed the paper petition in situ, while another 281 made their marks online.
Claydon Road resident Gerald Smeesters had criticised the council’s lack of ‘discernible engagement’ with those of all ages who use the area for their ‘recreation’.
He told the News & Mail: “The council has made a serious error of judgement by not involving residents from the outset.
“Many people use North Meadow, and the lake and surrounding greenery are vital to the centre of the estate, providing added diversity and supporting wildlife.”
Beaufort School and Toad Hall Nursery are also opposed to the site being used for more pitches.
Part of the local authority’s masterplan is to meet its Playing Pitch Strategy ‘to make the best use of the entire park, with leisure facilities high on the agenda’.
Goldsworth Park Rangers Football Club’s 420 youth members predominantly use the current facilities and, although their committee hadn’t actually made any requests for extra pitches, Club Secretary Andy Morgan told the News & Mail: “The council approached GPRFC more than a year ago to find out if we would use more pitches in the park.
“As a growing club, both in terms of numbers and success, of course we welcomed the support.
“From what I understand, the council have available funds from Government for playing fields, hence they asked the football club.
“To offer local kids some quality facilities on their doorstep has to be a good thing; they get the chance to enjoy leisure activities with qualified coaches.”
Horsell West Councillor Beryl Hunwicks pointed out that it’s the residents within half a mile of the area who are most concerned.
She said: “Although the pitch proposals are in Goldsworth Park, it is the people living in the Claydon Road area who would be most affected.
“We will be working hard with the council to get the provision for junior pitches across the borough, but in more suitable locations.”
A statement from GPRFC said: “We are disappointed to learn of the petition against the proposal to add a further two junior football pitches at the park.
“We fully respect residents’ opinions, but GPRFC is a strong community club – with more than 50 qualified volunteers, and hundreds of parents and helpers who look after about 28 teams.
“The committee will continue to work with the council, the FA, and all other governing bodies to provide the best facilities we can for our children to enjoy playing football in a safe and friendly environment.”
Woking MP Jonathan Lord believes that the council would have to make a ‘very strong case’ to justify laying further pitches in the area.
He explained: “Many residents have contacted me saying how they value the open spaces provided for walkers and dog walkers. There is a very heated debate between those wanting more pitches and others wanting to retain the meadows, and at the moment the numbers and strength of feeling seem to reflect those who want to retain the meadowland.”
Mr Smeesters concluded: “We believe the council’s consideration for recreation needs and wellbeing for the majority of residents has been blinkered.
“Instead, the authority has been driven to hastily utilise a funding ‘windfall’ and to satisfy the ‘tick box’ culture of performance targets. Petitioners merely ask that there is a balance towards recreation provision for people of all abilities.
“On this particular parcel of land that balance had already been reached prior to these proposals.”
The petition closes on 2 May. To add a signature online, visit petitions.woking.gov.uk/gpnorthmeadow.