Plan to “sell off” part of a public Derbyshire recreation ground to a football club revealed

Secret plans to “sell off” part of a public Derbyshire recreation ground to a football club, have been revealed.

By Eddie Bisknell
Monday, 7th June 2021, 8:53 am
The Thomas William Recreation Ground off Old Road in Heage
The Thomas William Recreation Ground off Old Road in Heage

The alleged plans would see part of the Thomas William Recreation Ground off Old Road in Heage – largely known as Heage Recreation Ground – leased to Belper United Football Club.

It is said to have plans to fence off the grounds, build a clubhouse covered stands and install floodlights.

Cllr Kevin Buttery, Conservative leader of Amber Valley Borough Council, claims an “in principle” deal was made between the football club and the former deputy leader of the authority, Labour’s Cllr Ben Bellamy, to “sell-off” the land.

However, Cllr Bellamy contends that a “deal” was not struck and that the council was approached by Belper United who are looking for a new home, with the bottom pitch at Heage Rec suggested.

The bottom pitch needs major renovation, he says, and was first donated for football.

He says in principle support was given for improvements to be made to that area, which would also include public consultation.

Belper United FC has been approached for comment.

Cllr Buttery said: “The football club’s ambition and aspiration is very much welcomed and as a council we will try and help wherever we can.

“However, any disposal of ‘public space assets’ must benefit the local community or the council’s financial situation, not be to its detriment.

“Decisions to take away recreational facilities and restrict public usage should not be taken lightly and should be undertaken in an open and transparent manner.

“I am fully aware of residents concerns regarding the loss or restricted use of the Thomas William Recreation Ground, should a lease be granted.

“I am also mindful of the fact that for the football club to deliver a project of this size will be dependent upon them being successful in bidding for significant external funding.”

Cllr Tony Harper, borough council cabinet member for regeneration and community safety, said: “I fully support development of sporting facilities, but this should not be to the detriment of local communities.

“This recreation ground is our only open public space in the village. It is there for the use and benefit of local residents, so they should have a say in its future.

“To agree a deal behind their backs is just not acceptable. Local children should not be disadvantaged by the aspirations of clubs who want to champion their own specialist sport, however well intentioned they are.

“This proposal is privatisation of a publicly owned facility and another example of how Labour planned to dispose of council assets without public knowledge or involvement.

“I want the council to invest in improving the existing facilities on this ground and I am seeking the views of residents about what they want to see this public space used for.”

Cllr Bellamy said: “We were approached by BUFC who are looking for a new home, and the bottom pitch at Thomas William was suggested.

“After consulting with the Williams family, and recovering support, we offered our in principal support to improvements that would see football returning to Heage – which is what the land was initially donated for.”