Saturday, 21 July 2018

Young footballers ‘at risk’ after ditch dredged

A CHILDREN’S football club has accused Henley Town Council of putting its players in danger.

A CHILDREN’S football club has accused Henley Town Council of putting its players in danger.

Last year, council staff dredged the River Harp, which runs alongside the Jubilee Park sports pitches used by AFC Henley.

The excavated earth was then dumped in between the ditch and the side of one of the football pitches.

Club chairman Trevor Howell told the council’s recreation and amenities committee that the ditch was 6ft deep and 8ft wide in places and players and spectators could fall into it.

He added that the mound of earth contravened FA regulations as it was too close to the pitch.

Mr Howell said: “The council, through the parks services team and [town clerk] Mike Kennedy, came into the ground to do some work on the River Harp.

“Their riparian responsibility is to keep the stream clear of debris but it was basically dredged with a lot of earth taken out.

“The pile of earth narrowed the strip of land between the ditch and the pitch which means the run-off between them is too narrow. We are supposed to have a four yard run-off between the pitch line and any other obstacles. It has been identified as a risk by our welfare officer. We have a child safety problem because of this.

“People playing games career off the pitch, that’s one danger. Another is spectators watching their older child playing and their toddler disappears. We don’t want to find a child face-down in the water.”

Mr Howell also claimed that the work on the river caused flooding for neighbouring residents.

“The River Harp was interefered with and caused problems in both directions,” he said. “Last year was the first time they had a flood in 40 years. To start dredging a river like that is interfering with the waterways.”

He said that Claudia Rowberry, who lives on the other side of the river, had called in the Health and Safety Eexecutive to investigate.

Mr Howell said the football club had thought about moving the pitch but doing so still wouldn’t provide enough room to meet regulations.

He said there were several options open to the council which included putting the earth back, creating a pipeline but clearing the earth and installing a protective fence.

Committee chairwoman Sam Evans said the earth was left by the pitch as a safety measure.

“They thought they would be helping stopping kids from going down the bank,” she said.

Councillor Kellie Hinton said there was clearly a health and safety issue and suggested putting up a chestnut paling fence.

The committee agreed in principle to remove the earth and install a fence.

Meanwhile, Chris Baker, president of Henley Hockey Club, called on greater support from the council in the running of Jubilee Park.

The £162,000 astroturf pitch, which was opened four years ago, is owned by the council and leased to the club at a cost of £17,000 a year plus £1,500 for the cost of the lights.

Mr Baker said: “It is our greatest strength and biggest weakness. Even though we have a lease we have no right to the use of the pitch. I would ask you if we could be allowed in writing to have a right of use. It is something that is concerning us.”

He said security was also a worry, explaining that people would climb the fences and jump on to the dugouts and damage them. The club was looking at using anti-climb paint on the top of the fencing.

“We are unbelievably protective of this pitch,” said Mr Baker. “We look after it because we recognise it is our lifeblood.”

He also criticised GLL, a non-profit organisation that manages the site and Henley leisure centre for the council, saying there was a problem with maintenance such as overflowing rubbish bins.

Mr Baker said there used to be a man looking after the site “all the time” but now if there was a problem, someone at the lesiure centre had to be contacted. I don’t think it’s our responsibility or your responsibility but it is the responsibility of your contractor,” he said. “If it was me I would ask them to do a weekly report to you.”

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