The Liberal Democrat Cabinet gave approval for the planned new fenced-off artificial football pitch to proceed to the next stages on 17th October. However, Members of the Council’s Scrutiny Committee, which is tasked with examining papers that will go to Cabinet for decision chaired by Ashtead Independent David Hawksworth, had fundamental disagreements when they met on 3 October. These were primarily focussed on concerns for the openness of the area, the use of plastics, and loss of public open space, as opposed to possible benefits it could bring to young people’s access to all weather football facilities. There were further concerns over the how the consultation process had been carried out, and that the new facility was to be managed by a company established for that purpose and independent from Ashtead Football Club. Ashtead Councillors did not feel these concerns were adequately addressed on the 17th, and “called-in” the decision. This went back to the Scrutiny Committee on 14th November, where there was little opportunity for concerns to be scrutinized as the Liberal Democrat Members quickly called for a vote to end further discussion of the item.
The Scrutiny Committee is “politically balanced”: i.e. two Independents, one Conservative, and eight Liberal Democrats; all non-Liberal Democrats voted against just ending the item without further consideration, while all other members voted to continue scrutiny.
This means that the Cabinet will now move ahead with the proposals, but it is recognized that there are several issues that remain to be progressed before any works could be permitted to start: these include approval to divert the route of the existing public right of way footpath, consent from Fields in Trust, and advertising the loss of public open space.
A proposal to make an Order to divert the public right of way (Footpath 42) was presented to the Council’s Development Management Committee on 6th December. This included the results of the Surrey County Council’s “pre-consultation” on the issue which closed on 6th September (see here). The County Council had just 30 responses, 22 expressing concerns that amounted to objections, six in support, and two neither supporting nor objecting. Councillor David Hawksworth addressed the Committee as one of the Ward Councillors, pointing out the reasons for the concerns that had been expressed, the most important of which was the reduction in enjoyment as the public would not be able to walk freely directly across the area but have to negotiate the fenced off pitch. The Committee went on to agree with Councillor Garry Stansfield’s proposal that the new route should be widened to a maximum of 2 m, compared with the “minimum of two metres” included in the proposal.
A further issue emerged. The proposal was in the name of the “Trustees of Ashtead Football Club”, but when Councillor Gerry Sevenoaks enquired who these were, it emerged that the names of the Trustees were not known to the Officers present, and nor was it clear what the status of Ashtead Football Club was. In the absence of that information, the Committee voted for deferment (12 for, three against, and two abstention); we were pleased that eight Liberal Democrats voted with the three Independents on this occasion. This request will now come back to Development Management Committee on 10 January 2024. If it is agreed to make an Order at the January meeting, the District Council is required to advertise that for 42 days. The Order can then only be confirmed by the Council if all objections have been resolved with the objectors. If there are unresolved objections, the final decision must then be referred to the Secretary of State for decision.
Further information will be posted on this website as it becomes available.
By Councillor David Hawksworth