Hatfield Town Council eyeing major housing plans for playing field, critics claim

PUBLISHED: 17:34 27 July 2017 | UPDATED: 10:47 28 July 2017

Playing fields behind Birchwood Leisure Centre.

Playing fields behind Birchwood Leisure Centre.

Danny Loo Photography 2016

Hatfield Town Council has secretly been looking into the possibility of a major housing development and football stadium for Birchwood Playing Fields, it has been claimed.

Cllr Caron Juggins at Birchwood Leisure Centre.Cllr Caron Juggins at Birchwood Leisure Centre.

Behind closed doors the council last year resolved to pay architects to obtain pre-planning advice for a “confidential” scheme, which members agreed to keep classified until feedback was received.

However, Independent town councillor Caron Juggins told the WHT she was shocked by the provisional ideas, which she claimed architects have subsequently been paid to seek advice on.

She said: “They included a very big football stadium, with flats at each corner, there was a perimeter of Birchwood Fields and cottages.

“They were planning to build a row of flats there as well, and they were going to develop where Birchwood [Leisure Centre] stands, they were going to put houses on there.”

Independent Hatfield town councillor Heather CiarleglioIndependent Hatfield town councillor Heather Ciarleglio

Independent councillor Heather Ciarleglio confirmed that she had also seen sketches of the plans Cllr Juggins described, as well as a presentation of them from architects, but stressed that to her knowledge there were no concrete plans in the pipeline at present.

Town council leader Lenny Brandon, when asked if he would rule out that it has paid architects to look into the stated plans, said: “We are looking across the whole of our estate to improve things.”

Town clerk Carrie Lloyd also refused to reveal how much money had been spent on the scheme, claiming that under the Freedom of Information Act the council is not required to do so.

Cllr Juggins branded it “undemocratic” to spend residents’ money exploring a scheme while refusing to disclose specifically what it is or how much it is costing.

Hatfield Town Council leader Lenny BrandonHatfield Town Council leader Lenny Brandon

“That’s not right because councils are supposed to have an open policy, so you should know where that money is going and they [residents] do not know where that money is going,” she said.

The provisional ideas are thought to have spawned from initially modest proposals for a football ground on the site.

Jon Brindle, who was part of an advisory group for the council’s football ground project, claimed he also saw the sketches as part of his role, and provided an almost identical account to Cllr Juggins.

“I know the council leadership has gagged all the councillors from speaking about this, and there is no reason for the secrecy,” he added. “Councillors are only custodians of Hatfield assets on behalf of the residents, they do not own them.

“They do not have a mandate to proceed with paying to gain pre-planning advice for a completely new development that includes the housing.”

Clerk Carrie Lloyd said: “The town council looks forward to consulting with all of Hatfield’s residents on proposals for Birchwood Playing Fields as soon as it hears back from the Local Planning Office on what can and cannot be included on the site.

“We hope to be able to create an attractive, fully-inclusive sporting venue for both men, ladies, girls and boys of all abilities, not just for 22 men on a muddy pitch.”

Any proposed scheme would have to be approved by Welwyn Hatfield Council.

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