Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Residents fight sale of playing fields

CAMPAIGNERS are trying to stop a free school being built on playing fields in Caversham after

CAMPAIGNERS are trying to stop a free school being built on playing fields in Caversham after an offer was made to buy part of the land.

The Education Funding Agency has offered Reading Borough Council £1.36 million to buy a section of Mapledurham playing fields as a permanent site for the Heights Primary School.

The school has been at a temporary site in Gosbrook Road, Lower Caversham, since it opened in 2014.

The playing fields, off Woodcote Road, are the preferred site out of five possible locations after becoming the overwhelming choice of residents in a public consultation last year.

The agency says some of the purchase money could be used to provide new facilities on the playing fields.

But Fit4All, a new campaign group made up of residents, clubs and groups who use the fields, is to fight the plans. It says the sale would breach a covenant put in place when the land was gifted to the community for leisure purposes by Charles Hewett in 1938.

Elisa Miles, who is trustee of the playing fields and lives in Caversham, said: “As well as a cadre of dedicated, committed local volunteers to spearhead the project, we have garnered support from national charities whose purpose is to save playing fields from development and established links with grant-making sporting bodies as well as specialist charity lenders.

“Everything is in place for a volunteer-led approach to saving this community asset. If Reading Borough Council will not listen, we are sure the charity commission will.”

The agency said it wanted 2.696 acres of land even though the school would only require 1.231 acres. It said: “This is to avoid a situation where any modifications to the agency’s design would then require it to re-enter negotiations to secure a slightly different part of the site.”

The school facilities, such as a multi-use games area, car park and school hall, could be used by the community.

The agency the land is worth £30,755 but it had added another £1.33 million to the offer to “ensure the development of the school is able to enhance the provision of sport and recreation on the playing fields as a whole”. But Mrs Miles said: “The proposal reduces land and established facilities at the playing fields at a time when the community needs more green space due to the initiatives supported by residents and the needs of the continually expanding football club.

“The proposal states that the site was lacking vibrancy and that a school will help to invigorate the site. This is both untrue and insulting to the hundreds of volunteers who administer clubs and run events for the entire community.”

Mrs Miles said that only the actual value of the land would go to the trust, adding: “The remainder of the money could be used by Reading Borough Council, the trustees, as it sees fit.”

The agency said it didn’t want to undermine the strength of the charitable trust but to demonstrate how its offer would make “a substantial contribution” to the objects of the charity that outweighed the loss of land.

The offer was made on the basis that the council would significantly invest in the current sports pitches, which would then be made available to the new school.

The council has four months to decide whether to accept the offer.

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