Bid to secure fields for the community

David Bent, Bea Menier and Colin Doubleday, of Piper’s Area Residents’ Association

David Bent, Bea Menier and Colin Doubleday, of Piper’s Area Residents’ Association

First published in News Swindon Advertiser: Photograph of the Author by , @Michael_Benke

AN EXTRAORDINARY council meeting is set to take place to discuss the future of the Croft Fields following the announcement of a leisure lease last week.

The land has been included as part of the lease, which was awarded to Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), despite a 1,700-signature petition being handed over asking for them to be removed.

Now Labour, led by local councillor Nadine Watts (Old Town) has called the meeting for July 3, asking for the fields to be removed so they can remain public space.

The council says the land is safe from development as GLL is not involved in house-building.

A number of decades ago, when the land was handed over to the council, a covenant was put in place to keep it as playing fields.

But residents believe the latest issues show how insecure that covenant is and want a new one put in place to ensure the Croft Fields remain in community use.

Colin Doubleday, chairman of the Piper’s Area Residents’ Association, said: “We are still concerned that there is nothing to stop the development of the site if that’s what future parties want.

“We wish GLL all the best in running the Croft Leisure Centre but we want the long-term future secured so the fields remain for community use as they were always intended.

“If in ten years’ time the centre is not turning a profit then we will end up having this same argument again.

“We have seen the existing covenant cannot be trusted so we want to see a new one which shows political intent from all sides that the fields will remain in community use.

“We gathered 1,700 signatures which show the strong level of feeling in the community for the Croft Fields.”

Coun Watts says she believes that while the leisure lease is a step in the right direction for securing the land, the extra step needs to be taken.

She said: “The 25-year lease and ten-year keep-open clause is much better than a lot of people were expecting, but now we want it to go a little bit further.

“We want to see the fields taken out of the lease and put under a management contract, so GLL could deal with bookings and keep the grass cut but not have a say over the land.

“I understand that GLL are not interested in building houses but if ten years down the line things are a little tighter and there is a financial company pushing they may make the decision to sell.

“This is obviously an important issue so I wanted the extraordinary meeting to ensue because it deserves to be fully debated so the people are heard.”

When the lease was announced Coun Keith Williams (Con, Shaw) said the land was not in danger of being developed because GLL is a leading leisure operator and the council has first refusal if GLL could not make it work.

He said: “I can say the Croft Fields are now more secure because there is already a covenant on the land and GLL are not interested in house building.

“It is not what they do.”

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