Pitch battle as club and MP fight housing plan for sports fields

A direct plea has been made to a council boss calling for a rethink on proposals which could see football pitches turned into a housing estate.

The Southern Area Playing Fields, off Bonemill Lane in Rickleton, Washington, could be developed for 200 new homes under Sunderland City Council’s Core Strategy and Development Plan.

The Southern Area Playing Fields hosts youth games for Washington United FC, but could be developed for housing as part of proposals by Sunderland City Council.

The Southern Area Playing Fields hosts youth games for Washington United FC, but could be developed for housing as part of proposals by Sunderland City Council.

But the proposals have met opposition from Washington United FC, which calls the six full-sized pitches its home.

The club, which has 300 members aged from seven to 17, has its sights set on expanding and developing a Northern League side.

It hopes to take on the site with a view to setting up a facility which will offer pitches and much more to the town’s young people.

It has approached the council with a view to transferring the asset into its management, with fundraising well on target to cover the cost, while it has been working with the Fields in Trust organisation in a bid to protect the green space for community use.

We can build houses anywhere, there’s nowhere like it in his area.

Mick Trainer

But it says the council has told its bosses that no asset transfers will take place until 2021 and has not responded to the trust.

The club’s management says the authority is waiting for the Football Association, Sport England and the Football Foundation-backed Parklife scheme to bed in for two years before it makes any decisions - one of the three hubs planned will be at the town’s Northern Area Playing Fields.

It says that will mean it faces yet more time in limbo, after already spending four years trying to push for an long-term agreement to accommodate its 28 teams, with five more sides expected to join its ranks next year.

In the meantime it has followed the suggestion it teams up with a school, but claims the council has also halted that idea progressing, and has worked on a financial plan to secure its future.

Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson.

Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson.

Its cause has been taken up by Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson, who has written to council chief executive Irene Lucas in a bid to protect the fields, with Sport England also objecting to it being lost as a playing space.

However, the council has said no decisions on the site have been made and people’s views are being taken into account as the strategy is drafted up.

Club secretary Mick Trainer said: “We feel we are being railroaded into using the hub, which we don’t want.

“We want to build something not just for the club, but for the community of Washington.

“It’s a large site, a beautiful site and if it is lost to houses, there’s no replacement for it.

“We can build houses anywhere, there’s nowhere like it in this area.”

He says the club has been received a wealth of support for its appeal through its Facebook page.

Mrs Hodgson has told Ms Lucas: “It is vital playing fields are protected so that children, families and sorts teams can continue to have easy access to facilities, exercise and enjoy themselves.

“Not only this, but green spaces are a place of beauty that I believe should be preserved for the enjoyment of all, as well as for future generations.”

She told the Echo: “Increasingly constituents have been expressing concerns about this issue to me. That is why I have now written to the Council to ensure that their concerns are heard.”

Anyone who would like to find out more about the club can visit its Facebook page or email washingtonunited@sky.com.

Statement from Sunderland City Council

The council has been in a lengthy dialogue with Washington United for several years about pitch provision.

The dialogue is continuing as the council is now progressing with the Sunderland Parklife programme, subject to funding from the Football Foundation (FF).

The Parklife Programme scheme is about securing major new investment and upgraded facilities for all local and grass roots players with the assistance of the foundation.

The council on its own does not have the funding for large investments in grass roots football and is working closely with the foundation to secure development and funding.

Planning applications have been submitted for three football hubs at Ford Quarry, Downhill and Northern Area playing fields, Washington.

These applications will be considered on their merits and in line with local and national policies.

Subject to planning approval and funding, the Hub site in Washington would enhance all football facilities and opportunities within Washington.

It would look to replace some natural turf pitches with artificial turf pitches, and be open for use seven days a week from 10am until 10pm.

No decisions have been made on the future of the southern area playing fields at this time.

Following Government and national guidelines to identify possible future development sites, the council began consultation for drafting the city’s Core Strategy and Development Plan.

This closed in October and the council received several thousand representations and comments.

It was one of the biggest consultation exercises ever completed by the council and more than 6,000 representations were received.

The council is very grateful to everyone who took part and, as was said when the consultation got underway, the whole exercise was about gathering and gauging views and opinions on future economic growth and housing development.

Nothing was definite, nothing was set in stone, and responses from individuals, groups and businesses, are being reviewed and taken into consideration.

It’s anticipated that more details on the next draft of the strategy will be publicly available in the early summer.