Stadium motion rejected in ongoing Birchwood Playing Fields saga

Playing fields behind Birchwood leisure centre.

Playing fields behind Birchwood leisure centre. - Credit: Archant

A motion to build a stadium at Birchwood Playing Fields has been rejected at a meeting of Hatfield Town Council. 

The idea to build a ground for Hatfield Town FC and other community uses has been beset by issues in the past, with Angerland Common plans falling through in 2010

Cllr Richard Griffiths, a Liberal Democrat, proposed the motion noting the length of time the matter was taking overall and advocated using a plan outlined by local football enthusiast Jon Brindle. 

According to draft minutes, Hatfield Mayor Cllr Margaret Eames Petersen advised Mr Brindle that it would have been useful if she could have seen his plans as suggested 18 months ago.

Mr Brindle explained that he had made them available on social media and held a presentation in Birchwood Leisure Centre for three days. And Cllr Eames Petersen replied that she was not on social media and was not able to attend the display.

Mr Brindle undertook to recirculate his presentation to all members along with an email of support he had received from Sport England. 

The proposal was for use for community sporting and leisure activity, covering sports that are played outdoors or for indoor sports which can take place outside in summer.

Cllr Griffiths' motion said: "I believe we will be able to obtain funding through the S106 route, and, perhaps, extensions to the sides of the proposals could be obtained through sponsorship.

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"I am aware that there may have to be some changes to accommodate land ownership between the town council and Birchwood and de Havilland Playing Fields Trust.

"I move that the council advertise for architects/engineers/quantity surveyors so that all the necessary approvals and prices can be obtained for consideration."

But Cllr Caron Juggins, a Conservative and deputy council leader, expressed a wish to see more public consultation before more money was spent on architect fees.

At a meeting last year in January, architects Saunders Architecture+Urban Design presented an idea for four pitches, a 3G stadium, a space for Hatfield Boxing Club, junior netball clubs, martial arts, dance and recording studios, as well as new catering facilities and meeting and function rooms, a car park and housing on the fields - but this has not progressed forward. 

Mr Brindle's idea was presented at last year's meeting, which took place behind closed doors as it discussed business interests, but nothing came of it. 

At the most recent meeting, Cllr Tristan Wiltshire, a Conservative, wished to see the business plan for any proposal prior to committing any funds to any scheme. And leader of Hatfield Town Council Cllr Lenny Brandon expressed that he was against the motion.

Cllr Griffiths explained that he wished to use the £400,000 S106 grant, which came from a previous planning gain at Angerland Common, not the one set aside for football in Hatfield.

The opposition councillor then amended his motion to request authority to go out to various agencies to see what costs would be involved, but Cllr Brandon then expressed his concern at a councillor acting on his own, without officers being involved in potential contract negotiations.

Five members voted in favour of the motion and five members were against, including Mayor Cllr Eames-Petersen voting against.

Another motion the council disussed was to establish a group of interested people from the local community to define the neighbourhood for the plan and to identify the initiatives to investigate - for example cycling and sustainable transport, conservation areas and infrastructure requirements for current and future housing developments. 

The areas that Cllr Eames-Petersen wanted looked at were Old Hatfield, The Ryde, Ellenbrook and College Lane and Lemsford village, the old water mill and Lemsford Springs, but these did not make it into the final motion.

The precept, which funds Hatfield Town Council, was also increased to £74.05 at Band D - with all members apart from the leader of Hatfield Town Council Cllr Brandon voting for it. 

The parish council has been under financial pressure during the COVID-19 crisis as its revenue-generating ventures like Birchwood Leisure Centre have been mostly shut during the last year.