Battle is on to save open space

BATTLE lines are being drawn up in a seaside town to save one of its few public open spaces.Mersea Island School has informed three sports clubs that members of the public can no longer use the Legion Field, which it owns, stating it cannot maintain it in a "safe condition for recreational activities".

BATTLE lines are being drawn up in a seaside town to save one of its few public open spaces.

Mersea Island School has informed three sports clubs that members of the public can no longer use the Legion Field, which it owns, stating it cannot maintain it in a "safe condition for recreational activities".

However, users say this will force three hockey clubs to find a new home and leave many of the island's children with nowhere else to play except the street.

Village celebrations have been staged on the Legion Field, including the lifeboat fetes and the Queen's Coronation. But over the years the two-acre site and the smaller county council-owned Youth Field next door have been vandalised, and faced increasing pressure to be developed.


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Now neither site allows public access, although the town council is currently taking legal measures to try to protect the second field by having it designated as a village green.

Stephen Vince, a town councillor and secretary of the Stick Owners Hockey Club, said: "Many players have been playing ball games here for over 40 years and do not wish to leave their home. The authorities are attempting to make Mersea's only green lung a no-go area.

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"We have three non-league teams with players aged from 10 to 60 playing but it is not just the sports clubs, children after school go there for a kick about and we are very happy to seen them use our hockey goals.

"It is an informal play area for the whole island and there is nowhere else nearby for them except the streets."

He added that all clubs which used the field had public liability insurance.

But Sue Shenton, headteacher of Mersea Island School, said the field was in such a dangerous condition the school had been forced to take action. She added she had offered the clubs the use of the superior school playing pitches for their matches instead.

"The reason is we are not able to keep the field up to health and safety standards because the public abuse it," she said.

"It is a secluded area and there is glass, litter, dog mess and even syringes and our insurers are quite definite we should not be letting it."

She said it was no secret the school was open to offers to buy the land as more than £1million was needed to update the school.

Borough councillor John Jowers (Con) added: "I understand that there are pressures on both sides and there is strong feeling on the island about it. It would be a great shame if we were to lose a public open space in the village but there is no easy solution to it."

Dave Tucker, clerk to West Mersea Town Council, explained that under current guidelines, the town should have 40 acres of designated public open space. It currently has 12, counting the Legion Field.

He said the council would be looking into what it could do to help solve the problem, with options including offering to help the school meet its maintenance budget or even buying the field itself at the right price.

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