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MP gives backing to Weymouth sports field campaigners
CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save a community sports field from development have unearthed a binding document which they hope will aid their cause.
Residents, parents and athletes met yesterday with MP for South Dorset Richard Drax to discuss the future of the Marsh playing fields in Knightsdale Road, Weymouth.
The group claim they cannot secure funding for the neglected fields because Weymouth and Portland Borough Council will not guarantee the fields will never be built on.
Mr Drax said: “Standing here you can see it is a lovely open space, and could be a fantastic facility.
“Common sense would dictate it should remain as a sports facility with a covenant in place which says it should be a sports field in perpetuity.
“I would have thought the campaigners have a very good chance of winning their campaign.”
While there are currently no plans to develop the Marsh for housing, the borough council did not consider the site as an area to be permanently protected as an open space under the Queen Elizabeth II Field Challenge initiative at a management committee meeting in February.
But resident Ann Axenskold said a covenant from 1964 sets out a binding agreement between the council and the people granting them use of the fields for outdoor pursuits.
She said: “My father, Frank Brown, fought this same battle against the council in 1984.
“I grew up watching children play here.
“You can’t stand by and let these things happen when the area belongs to the town.”
Another resident, Michael Wheller, added: “This is the only substantial green space in a heavily built-up area.
“We have a petition demanding a full public consultation before they take any decision which may affect the future of the Marsh, and we expect to take this to the next council meeting in July.”
Parents of young athletes said the poor conditions on the Marsh meant their teams lagged behind others in the county.
Jeremy King, whose son Jamie, 12, competes with the Weymouth St Paul’s Harriers and Athletics Club, said: “No-one wants to compete on our turf because of the facilities.
Former president of the club David Bucke added: “We are trying to do the best we can with the facilities we have, but it is frustrating.
“It’s a shame, in an Olympic year, that these are the facilities we have for young athletes.
“In order to get funding, we need the council to agree that they will not build on the Marsh.”
MIKE Goodman, chairman of Weymouth and Portland Borough Council’s management committee, said the council has no plans to develop the site, which is protected by the Local Plan.
He added: “There is no immediate prospect for funding for the development of the site as a playing field.
“The recommendation to the management committee in February was not to afford it that status under the QE2 initiative because to do so would indicate we have plans to expand its use as a playing field and, quite frankly, we have not.
“It is a financial issue and not to do with anything else.
“We have invested heavily in other fields in the borough, including Redlands and the rugby club. If there is a covenant, so much the better, because it will have a greater chance of being retained as a public space.”