A football club’s offer to fence off part of a pitch to protect its pitch from jobs and dog poo was turned into reality.
Fleetdown United FC’s plans for an ‘incursion fence’ at Heath Lane Open Space in Dartford divided opinion.
The club argued the barrier was necessary to protect the playing surface and improve safety following bouts of “antisocial and sometimes destructive behaviour”.
They’ve seen damage to club equipment and often have to reseed pitches due to dog poop, burned surfaces from disposable grills and pesky off-road motorcycles tearing up the turf.
Last year the team, who play in the Kent County Premier, the 11th division of the Football League, celebrated their 50th birthday.
They now want to modernize the facilities on the 7.6 hectare site to meet the increasing demand among young people.
Funding has been granted on an interim basis by the FA, provided the club can secure an extension of its lease for at least 25 years from Dartford City Council.
But some park users and dog walkers were furious at the club’s fencing proposals, saying it would “deny access” to hundreds of people living in the area.
If erected, the gate would exclude the public on weekends and stretch along the western boundary between the clubhouse and the houses at Roseberry Gardens.
Many neighbors agreed with the need to address anti-social behavior and the club’s expansion, but saw the fence as a “step too far”.
A petition was filed against the plans. It read: “This area is heavily used by dog walkers, families and children during the day.
“Removing this open area from the public using this area is a selfish act on behalf of Fleetdown FC and an incredible act on behalf of an organization which should put the interests of the local people of Dartford first.”
Dartford Council also held a consultation to get people’s views.
A total of 414 replies were received, of which 323 opposed the proposal and 91 in favor. Another 10 matched the lease but not the fence.
On Thursday, the council’s cabinet met to discuss both matters. Several residents opposed to the plans attended the meeting, as did a representative from Fleetdown.
West Hill’s Lead Member for Parks, Open Spaces and Heritage Cllr Drew Swinnerd (Con) opposed the fencing proposals.
He said: “In my view there should be no fence that would restrict access to the public.”
“This is about coexistence and we have to find a way, but I don’t think the answer is to fight it off.”
Cllr Swinnerd added he was “sympathetic” to the club’s needs but was uncomfortable that a large area which “has been enjoyed by members of the public for many years” could suddenly be closed.
He pointed to Hesketh Park in Dartford, which has a cricket ground and public access, as a potential model for future relationships.
Cabinet member Cllr Andy Lloyd (Con) agreed to extend the lease and support the club but opposed the fence.
“This is a rock and a hard place,” he said. “I think the club has been great for the area and people enjoy watching them play football.
“But it’s also an area that local residents enjoy, so I think it would be wrong to fence it off and deny access when it’s not being used and I wouldn’t support that.”
Council leader Cllr Jeremy Kite said he was similarly conflicted when making a decision.
“I know you [the club] “To be very good people and they work very hard,” he explained. “They do what they do because they A. love football and B. love the community.”
But after visiting the site before discussing the plans with members, Cllr Kite concluded a burglary fence would leave a “scar” on the land.
“This is about coexistence and we have to find a way, but I don’t think the answer is to fight it off,” he added.
“There’s a whole range of things we can do for the club to address anti-social behavior and dog waste.”
Cllr Kite pointed out a “green solution” in the form of hedges and clearly marked boundaries to better protect the space.
As well as pledged to “improve” his partnership” with the club, the Tory leader said the council would look to secure better storage facilities and “pepper up” existing goals.
But he said the club’s demands for council video surveillance were “out of the question” given the existing high demand in other parts of the borough with heavier crime.
It is the second “common sense” solution to a fence problem proposed by the chairman in less than a week after a dispute emerged in Temple Hill over the use of bamboo to protect tenant privacy.
All cabinet members agreed to agree to the club’s lease extension.