The six Ashtead Independent Councillors in Mole Valley District Council are united in opposing plans to fence off a large part of the recreation ground for an artificial football pitch.
The proposal, which will also adversely impact Ashtead Village Day, is being made by the Ashtead Football Club (AFC).
In July last year the Development Management Committee (DMC) of Mole Valley District Council (MVDC) approved a proposal by Ashtead Football Club (AFC) to install an all-weather pitch with plastic grass and surrounded by a 4.5 m high wire fence. It would occupy the area immediately to the south of the clubhouse and extend almost to the hard-surfaced footpath. As the site is owned by MVDC, the proposal cannot be implemented unless permission is granted by Mole Valley’s Liberal Democrat Cabinet.
Many residents were unaware there was a proposal that would exclude them from this part of the Recreation Ground. Only around 40 properties were notified of the proposal when it was announced at Christmas time 2020 (during a lock-down), and there was no wider consultation with the community.
Many residents are alarmed by their potential exclusion from public open space, and this has resulted in the responsible MVDC Cabinet Member (Cllr David Draper) meeting with local Councillors and other interested parties on 23 August. At that meeting the Ashtead Residents’ Association (ARA) representative spoke strongly in favour of the AFC proposal.
The following evening, a public meeting was convened by concerned resident Steven Kershaw in St George’s Church, where the AFC gave a presentation, and the Ashtead Councillors and others were able to make their concerns known. Cllr Draper was in attendance and explained the procedure now being followed. Feelings were running high amongst the several hundred residents present, including some AFC members, and a considerable number of areas of concern emerged.
In order to provide an opportunity for the views of residents as a whole to be obtained, the decision is now being scheduled for the Cabinet meeting in November, not October as originally planned. In the event the scheme is approved by the Cabinet, permission will also be required from the Rights of Way Officer in Surrey County Council as there is a public right of way through the planned site that will need to be diverted.
It is now known that the site was highlighted as one for the development of new football facilities in a report prepared by consultants commissioned by MVDC under the Liberal Democrat administration in 2019; evidence for that report was gathered almost exclusively from football and other sports associations.
That report had not been made known to local Councillors nor does it appear to have ever been adopted by the whole Council – so came as something of a surprise as far as local members were concerned.
While there is no doubt over the contribution the AFC makes to the youth of Ashtead, which the community really appreciates, all six Ashtead Independent Councillors are united in being opposed to the present scheme for the following reasons:
Loss of public open space enjoyed by so many residents of all ages, something scarce in Ashtead and so important for physical and mental well-being.
Adverse effects on Ashtead Village Day (which attracts around 6,000 people and fund-raises for local charities) through the loss of exhibit space and new health and safety restrictions.
The AFC already has grass pitches marked out that occupy the majority of the grassed area of the whole Recreation Ground.
The AFC already has access to and uses all-weather pitches at several local schools.
Drainage could be improved in the area of concern so no fencing or special surface would be required.
Replacement of carbon-capturing grass and soil by an artificial surface; an acre of mown grassland such as a football pitch will trap around 350 kg carbon dioxide each year.
Use of plastic grass which will degrade over time and release microplastics into the water system.
Loss of an existing statutory public right of way across the site.
Obtrusive high wire fences adversely impacting the visual appearance of the Recreation Ground and recalling a prison camp.
Increased noise and light pollution affecting local residents.
Impacts on drainage of the area as a whole.
Increased car traffic and limited parking space shared with other Recreation Ground users.
We also note that the use of plastic grass would be contrary to MVDC’s declared policy of eliminating plastic use and also their declared Climate Change Emergency.
We also understand that the main motivation of the AFC is to provide a surface of their own that will not become muddy so that it no longer needs to hire facilities with artificial pitches in local schools – and also have a facility that it can charge out to other organizations even outside Mole Valley. No forward financial estimates of the impact on the AFC budgets have been made public.
Given that the most recent meetings were held during the height of the summer holiday period it was felt that many residents would still be wholly unaware of the proposal and had not had chance to form and express their views on this possible development.
It was suggested by former County Councillor Tina Mountain OBE at the meeting on the 24th August that a referendum be conducted in Ashtead to inform the Cabinet of the views of as many residents as possible, both for and against.
How that might be achieved is currently being explored. In the meantime, do let your views be known by e-mailing Councillor Draper firstname.lastname@example.org) or the officer handling the case, Ismina Harvey (email@example.com).