THE FUTURE of local ‘grassroots football’ hangs in the balance as tensions over a controversial planning application threatens to divide two sports communities, potentially leaving one with ‘nowhere to train’.

Parents of players for Holy Trinity Juniors Football Club have expressed outrage over plans by a neighbouring croquet club which hopes to expand its playing area at Hazlemere Recreation Ground, “onto their pitches”.

Hazlemere Croquet Club submitted to Buckinghamshire Council designs for three additional croquet lawns and as many new shelters, new floodlighting, walls and fencing, and alterations to its entrance as part of wider plans for a “centre of excellence”.

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But Holy Trinity chairman Drew Wotherspoon said there was no “meaningful consultation” with the football club beforehand, that a version of plans it saw were “out of date”, and that the designs ‘completely remove’ the club’s ability to train “off-pitch” and therefore continue playing.

Bucks Free Press:

He also questioned the need for the expansion given the croquet club’s membership: “Looking at the number of pitches they wish to add, it will take around 30 years to increase their membership to the levels needed to fill their proposed space.”

According to the football club’s spokesperson, parents and supporters are gearing up for a “big, hard-hitting social media campaign” if the plans in their existing form are not withdrawn.

The club, which has used “The Rec” for nearly 30 years and has more than 250 youngsters under its wing, said it is concerned about the impact the changes will have on the players’  “mental and physical health”.

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“This is outrageous,” said Ellena Gilson. “I’m so upset they could do this without consulting us.

“My son loves playing for Holy Trinity, he gets so much joy from it and his physical and mental wellbeing has improved immensely from it.

“Many professional footballers owe their success to grassroots football, which will be denied to future children if we do not protect pitches and green public spaces.”

Bucks Free Press:

Holy Trinity player, Toby

Mr Wotherspoon said the football club never gave its consent to redesign the pitches, ‘despite claims by the croquet club it had no objections’.

He said ‘no regard’ had been paid to the junior club and he criticised both the croquet club and the council for their “complete lack of transparency”.

He added the expansion would also impact the club’s ability to raise much-needed funds from The Hazlemere Sixes tournament in May.

“We were made aware of the croquet club’s plans in March 2020 through the Hazlemere Sports Association,” he said.

“However, this happened very late in the process, providing us with little time to work with anybody to fully understand the implications and ramifications.”

Mr Wotherspoon added: “To be clear, we are in no way against a fellow club wishing to grow, but we do not believe their application is practical, and it will certainly have a hugely negative effect on our club.”

Cllr Lesley Clarke said she was “saddened” by the club’s objection. Adding: “There is no loss of football playing area, indeed that was one of the first things that was checked prior to discussing the proposed extension of the croquet club.”

Bucks Free Press:

A spokesperson for Buckinghamshire Council said: “We are still consulting on the planning application…nothing has been decided at the moment.

“Anyone who has a view about the plans…can comment up to our closing date of December 4. This is a standard part of the planning process we follow for every application of this kind.

“We will review all the comments we receive and consider them before we make a decision.

“While it is not a specific requirement, we generally encourage people applying for planning permission to talk to those who will be affected directly ahead of submitting an application.”

To view the application and comment, click here.

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