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‘We are basking in victory,’ say pitch-battle footballers

Nine-a-side 3G pitch compromise in long-running dispute between residents and sports lovers

20 October, 2017 — By Emily Finch

Young footballers campaigned against plans ‘to turn a perfectly good sports pitch into flower beds’ at Barnard Park

SPORTS campaigners fighting to prevent a football pitch being “turned into flower beds” were claiming victory this week.

Footballers at Barnard Park, in Copenhagen Street, have been locked in a long-running dispute with Islington Council, which planned to reduce the size of the 11-a-side pitch by 70 per cent as part of a redesign of the park.

On Friday, the Town Hall announced plans for a nine-a-side pitch with a high-grade artifical surface instead of the previously-proposed seven-a-side pitch.

“For the time being we are basking in the victory,” said campaigner Mark Ransford, whose children play on the pitch. “The local residents who mobilised their collective power to turn a perfectly good sports pitch into flower beds have been thoroughly defeated.

“The rule of law has been upheld. A rare and valuable sports pitch has been preserved. Any future plans for Barnard Park should take into account the needs of the wider community across Barnsbury but also the surrounding wards, and particularly its youth.”

It was revealed by the Tribune in August that the council had paid £419,339 over nine years to architects, surveyors and consultants engaged on the controversial park revamp before any work had started.

The seven-a-side pitch plans were opposed by government body Sport England. The proposals were “called in” by the Department for Commun­ities and Local Govern­ment, with a decision on the future of the park due to be made by the Planning Inspectorate, which rules on contested planning applications.

But the Town Hall wrote to the Planning Inspectorate withdrawing its application on Friday.

A new planning application, including a nine-a-side football pitch, will be submitted at a later date, with a further costly statutory consultation planned.

The original plans were backed by community group The Friends of Barnard Park. Of the new plans, a spokeswoman for the group said: “We are open-minded as to what is now proposed and are relieved that there is no longer a possibility of an 11-a-side destination pitch in our community park.”

Environment chief Councillor Claudia Webbe said: “To ensure we can deliver a better Barnard Park without further delays, and to avoid having to spend a large amount of public money on a planning inquiry at a time of continued massive cuts by the government, the council met with Sport England, the Football Foundation and The FA to examine if a compromise could be found.

“We are pleased that, as a result of these discussions, a plan that has the support of Sport England has emerged, which will see Barnard Park get the much-needed improvements that residents and park-users want, alongside a new 3G nine-a-side football pitch.

“We will also bring forward plans to provide improved park facilities, with a hub building that includes new park toilets.”

She added: “This new plan will see this precious green space improved more quickly than continuing with the Secretary of State’s public inquiry. The revised design will be based on the existing scheme, and we will, of course, consult residents on the new plan.

“We are very grateful to all the many residents who have already given their views and feedback on the future shape of the park.”

A Sport England spokeswoman said: “We welcome Islington Council’s decision to withdraw the current planning application for Barnard Park.  We look forward to working with the council and our partners on a revised planning application that will include a new artificial nine-a-side football pitch, together with a management plan for its use by the community.”

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