TENSION IN THE AIR OVER CASH CRISIS AT FOOTBALL FIELDS

An unexpectedly lively meeting of the Horrabridge Recreation Fields Trust ended in an agreement between the trust and the parish council to work together over a critical year ahead for the village football club.

The truce settled a bit of a showdown between trust chairman Andy Stewart and the parish council, sparked by disappointment at the failure of a plan to earn £25,000 by leasing a spot by the tennis court to an agency acting for mobile phone companies. The Dartmoor park authority turned it down.

Mr Stewart thought the council, as owners of the land, should have got more involved, and had ignored their legal obligations. He made reference to his disappointment in his annual report and had some heated correspondence with councillors over it.

The trust’s annual general meeting in the London Inn (Monday April 2) was followed by a discussion of the accounts for the fireworks display on the fields last Bonfire Week, then by the latest monthly meeting. And “correspondence with council” was a last item on the agenda, scheduled for a private session of the trust committee.

But council chairman Paul Beard was there to attack back and he got his say in early in the public session. He said the council had led the way to an alternative mast proposition which might have saved the deal, using a site close to the riverside trees. The phones agency, Shared Access, had sent a team of nine technicians and they went away happy. But then Shared Access had not bothered to make a new application. Instead, they are appealing against the failure of the original application – the wrong tactic in Cllr Beard’s view. He said Shared Access had mishandled its dealings with the park authority from the start and they were the problem, not Horrabridge Parish Council.

Mr Stewart said he could only say what Shared Access had told him – the park authority was so clearly against any mast at all on the recreation fields, they would be wasting time with a fresh application and might as well go straight into the appeal process, prepared for a long fight if they lose again.

Cllr Steve Roche, attending the meeting as an interested party, gave this interpretation some support. He had talked to the Dartmoor planning office and they did seem to think they ought to oppose masts in any public space inside the national park. They seemed to think there was no precedent for allowing one, although he was not convinced of that. However, it did seem that Shared Access had failed to recognise that building in the park was a delicate matter.

Everybody agreed that it now looks unlikely there will be any quick cash solution to the problems being stored up at the recreation fields. The usual grants, donations and small earnings, only amount to half of expenses of about £2,000 a year. The football club, which is the main customer, cannot afford to pay any more and gets subsidised a little in recognition that the fields are kept cut and maintained by their groundsman, Rob Mitchelmore, working for free. Meanwhile, the advent of women’s football is putting new demands on a rickety pavilion.

Cllr Beard suggested, however, that the club and the recreation fields trust could do more to help themselves. He had been at any too many meetings where too many members were missing. And he felt they could have made more of the fund-raising opportunity they were given with donations to hold the fireworks display. The way it turned out, they would be asking for donations from all the same sources again for a repeat planned for October 27 this year.

Cllr Roche commented: “It sometimes seems to me that village organisations making grants to each other is just going around in circles.”

Mr Stewart conceded they could have been harder-nosed about the fireworks night but said they would have had to take more risks to make more money. Some of the donors had been promised their money back and the promise had been kept. Jerry Lyden, representing Horrabridge Rangers Sports Association, said: “We did not set out to make money. We set out to create an event for the village.”

Mr Stewart agreed that some members of the fields trust were not pulling their weight. He felt the football club should come up with somebody to do the secretary’s job. The Scouts were on notice that they might be replaced if they did not take more interest. It was suggested from the floor that angling interests should represented and some work done on access to the river along the Fillace Park bank.

It was agreed by all sides that the trust had been put in a difficult situation, as an arms-length manager of parish assets. Neither it nor the football club owned the fields and pavilion, so they never seemed to qualify for any grants that were going. Cllr Beard said he agreed that the council needed to help out in that direction and he proposed that his deputy chairman, Steve Roche, who has experience of getting lottery funding, should work with the trust to try to find a source of funding while grants were still available.

Cllr Roche asked for a target figure and that led to the last exchange of the night. Cllr Beard said he would like a quarter of a million – enough money to bulldoze the old pavilion and build a new events centre. Such a plan has been discussed. But in the current climate, a make-do and mend solution is the likeliest. For the time being, Cllr Beard said he had to insist, for insurance purposes, on gas and electricity safety certification – which was agreed but which will mean more expenses to be covered from an almost empty pot.

The future of the pavilion was left for another day. But in a mood of truce, Mr Stewart proposed “no further action” on his grievances over the mast business.

He said: “We are now singing from the same hymn sheet.”

However, Councillor Beard said he still felt it was time for him to give up being the council’s representative on the trust. It was difficult to do that and chair the council, representing other interests, he said. A substitute would be appointed.

Report by Chris Benfield

PS: For more on the future of playing fields and football club, see

http://horrabridgetimes.net/index.php/2017/04/21/website-hacking-rumour-revived-latest-parish-council-report/

or

http://tinyurl.com/moa8px6/

Cllr Paul Beard

Andy Stewart

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Editor of The Horrabridge Times.