Basildon angers residents by proposing sale of green space to fill funding gap

An £11.5m funding shortfall for Basildon's new sporting village has prompted the council to propose selling yet more local green space, sparking furious campaigns from residents.

Critics of the plans fear the £35m elite sports development will be inaccessible to deprived residents whose limited green space is being sold off to fund it.

The public-private partnership between the council and construction group Morgan Sindall has already seen parts of Gloucester Park taken by the development. This was followed by the sale of Markham's Chase Leisure Centre and its outdoor pitches and the town's gymnastics club and surrounding open space.

Now planning permission is being sought for two new sites that would see up to 73 homes built on green space at Pound Lane Recreation Ground and Northlands Park.

Residents at the Felmore Estate next to Northlands Park have formed a friends group that has so far collected more than 1,000 signatures decrying the proposal and they now plan to apply for village green status.

The Friends of Northlands Park campaign was founded by local residents Christine Connelly and Christine Tuoy. Connelly said: "It is horrendous what they are actually doing. The Government complains about childhood obesity yet they are taking away our playing fields.

She continued: "It's a highly populated estate and people haven't got a lot of money yet they take away our free sports fields and expect us to pay for this sporting village. We will have to pay £3.80 to get the bus to it and then pay to get in as well."

They are appealing for legal advice from parks experts and have set up a Facebook group, also called Friends of Northlands Park, to help block the proposal.

Basildon councillor Phil Rackley has been a stern critic of the move, accusing the council of neglecting the needs of local residents. He said: "A private contractor will get the lease on the village for the next 25 years and while the council retains a say over pricing, obviously a private developer is going to be looking for a good return."

He added: "A big centre like this will attract interest from regional and national competitions which will push residents out. The cost element is also key. With the Northlands Park area and Kent View road sites, we are talking about some of the most deprived areas.

"It might be a marvellous facility but it's children's play spaces that are going to fund it. We would like to see the village built but we don't believe it should be at the cost of the town's major park - Gloucester Park - and certainly not at the cost of vital community assets."

Rackley's concerns followed the Sport England 2006 report identifying the area as short of green open space.

Council Leader Tony Ball said: "All of these sites have already been identified as part of our approach to asset management. This plan helps to fund council priorities, with the sporting village one of our top priorities.

"While residents value the open space, and we understand these concerns, the Pound Lane development will see a sizeable chunk of open space remaining, with re-investment back into the site to improve that space."

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