Saffron Walden clubs getting skates on in fight for land

EXPANDING One Minet Skate Park, bringing Saffron Walden Rugby Club back into town or building an athletics track.

That was the dilemma for members of Saffron Walden Town Council last Thursday night as they discussed potential community benefits in return for new homes.

Cllr David Watson, chairman of the Recreation and Playing Fields committee, said the council would fight Kier’s plans to build 300 homes off Thaxted Road and had opposed the preliminary proposal suggested.

But he told members if Kier did gain approval once its application was submitted, the council should “have a back-up plan” for how the community could benefit from the development.

Saffron Walden Skate Group has already put together a business plan for a new hub to be built as part of an extension – with a vision to include youth outreach services – but other sports clubs would like a share of the land.

Cllr Watson said: “Saffron Walden Rugby Club, Walden TRI and Saffron Striders have no facilities in this town.

“If the skate park hub goes up, there won’t be a running track and the rugby club won’t get any facilities in the town. This is the only suitable site for them – that is the reality.”

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Asked by Cllr Heather Asker whether discussions with Kier appeared to indicate it was the choice between a skate park hub or rugby pitches and an athletics track, Cllr Watson confirmed it was “either/or”.

He said: “If there is a hub nothing will be spent on the land. It has to be levelled and there needs to be a building a sports club can use, access and parking.

“At the moment it is an either/or but if we have further discussions with Uttlesford District Council (UDC) we may be able to get more money.”

Cllr Mike Hibbs was critical of the town council’s response in letting the issue get to this stage. He said talk of assisting other interested parties in putting together a proposal would “punish” the skate group for taking the initiative and producing a business plan.

“The lack of ambition on the part of this council is appalling,” he said. “We can go out and find what the community wants. This council did nothing, Uttlesford District Council did nothing, so a group of individuals put together a comprehensive business plan.

“There will be nothing for young people in the town to do before long. Essex County Council is selling off Fairycroft House and this council doesn’t consider supporting young people to be its job.”

Mayor Keith Eden hit back at that suggestion, saying there was an “unprecedented amount of things for youngsters to do in a town of this size”.

The skate group’s business plan came in for praise from Cllr Asker. She said: “We should be a little more supportive of the positive approach taken by one group in already pitching for this community benefit money.

“We need to be careful not to show any favouritism to one particular group, because we should be supporting everybody.”

Cllr Watson also believed the town council should not be responsible for the skate park hub if it was given the go-ahead under a Section 106 agreement with the developer.

He said: “If, heaven forbid, anything happened to anyone running the skate park and it was left to us, its upkeep would cost a fortune.”

Members agreed to tell UDC the council would not take any responsibility for the hub, if built.

Cllr Hibbs, Cllr Asker and Cllr Ben Balliger voted against the motion.