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Barnard Park: Council withdraws controversial plan to split up Islington’s last free full-size football pitch

PUBLISHED: 16:00 13 October 2017 | UPDATED: 14:13 16 October 2017

Campaigners from both Barnard Park football pitches and the Sobell Centre outside the Town Hall before a council meeting discussing both controversial projects in May. Picture: Polly Hancock

Campaigners from both Barnard Park football pitches and the Sobell Centre outside the Town Hall before a council meeting discussing both controversial projects in May. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Islington Council’s controversial bid to split up the borough’s last free-to-use full size football pitch has been withdrawn following protests from users and a call-in from the government.

In May, the council submitted an application to split up Barnard Park into a seven-a-side pitch and “green areas”.

It got majority backing at a consultation with neighbours, but some who played football there feared the plans would deprive poor children of a unique resource.

The application passed, to protests on the town hall steps from Highbury Football School and other park users, but in August communities secretary Sajid Javid challenged the decision.

Rather than go through a planning inquiry, the council has agreed to withdraw the plans, but says it will submit a new scheme that includes a 3G nine-a-side pitch in place of the 11-a-side that is there now.

Barnard Park's full-size football pitch. Picture: David Holt/Flickr/CC BY 2.0Barnard Park's full-size football pitch. Picture: David Holt/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Islington’s environment boss Cllr Claudia Webbe said today: “Barnard Park is in desperate need of improvement. The secretary of state’s decision to ‘call in’ the plan to improve the park that the council had developed with local residents and park users over many years means the community faces even longer delays before their park is brought up to scratch.

“There have been differing views on this project, but following extensive discussions with the community and park users, we agreed a plan, with majority support, that sought to strike a reasonable balance so Barnard Park could be enjoyed by all including parents, older people, footballers, children and young people and other park users.

“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 local residents and park users want, alongside a new 3G nine-a-side football pitch.

Highbury Football School will be left without a home after Islington Council decided to get rid of the Barnard Park sports pitch. Picture: Polly HancockHighbury Football School will be left without a home after Islington Council decided to get rid of the Barnard Park sports pitch. Picture: Polly Hancock

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

“This new plan to improve Barnard Park 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 local residents who have already given their views and feedback on the future shape of the park.”

The Friends of Barnard Park have posted a public statement on their website that reads: “Although the Friends of Barnard Park supported the application, 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.

"A plan that has the support of Sport England has emerged, which will see Barnard Park get the much needed improvements that local residents and park users want, alongside a new 3G nine-a-side football pitch"

Cllr Claudia Webbe

Campaigner Margaret Rowe, of the Save Our Pitch group, welcomed the council’s decision to withdraw its application, but criticised the new plans as they still involve downsizing the 11-a-side space.

“It suits the people from Friends of Barnard Park because they’ve got something that moves the playing area away from their lovely big gardens,” she said, “which the people on the Barnsbury Estate don’t have.”

The Friends of Barnard Park, who supported the original application, said on their website: “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.”

Ms Rowe added: “The council is now going to have to have another expensive consultation and a new planning application. The whole raison d’etre is to reduce the size of the pitch for the people who are rich. It’s all about nimbyism.

“[The new plan is] a compromise that will suit some, but it doesn’t suit the rugby club or the schools. If they want to do a sports day, halving that pitch doesn’t give them what they want.”

Save Our Pitch includes the Highbury Wolves football school, Islington Police Warthogs RFC and Copenhagen Youth Project.

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