Threat to town's playing fields

EXCLUSIVEBy John HowardCONCERN has been voiced after a council leader confirmed a town's playing fields could be earmarked for housing.Roger Saunders, leader of Mid Suffolk District Council, said it was looking to zone the Chilton playing fields in Stowmarket for housing within the Local Plan, the blueprint for development for the next decadeHe stressed that did not mean houses would definitely be built on the 25-acre site - which is used by rugby, football and cricket clubs - it just left that option open.

EXCLUSIVE

By John Howard

CONCERN has been voiced after a council leader confirmed a town's playing fields could be earmarked for housing.

Roger Saunders, leader of Mid Suffolk District Council, said it was looking to zone the Chilton playing fields in Stowmarket for housing within the Local Plan, the blueprint for development for the next decade


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He stressed that did not mean houses would definitely be built on the 25-acre site - which is used by rugby, football and cricket clubs - it just left that option open.

Mr Saunders added replacement playing fields would be provided if any such development happened in the future.

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The Conservative-Independent council has been under huge financial pressure after receiving a worse than expected grant from the Government, leaving it having to make savings of £1.57million this year.

“We are under pressure, like everyone else, to provide land for housing for the Government. This is purely a business decision by the landowning part of the council,” said Mr Saunders.

“This is not a question of removing the playing field and then having new housing. There would have to be a new facility put somewhere else if it went.

“We would not want to build houses and deprive the rugby and cricket clubs of somewhere.”

The Local Plan has yet to be finalised and the deadline for land bids has yet to close to zone land for housing.

But the possible threat to the Chilton playing fields was greeted with concern by civic leaders and sporting groups.

Stowmarket mayor, Barry Salmon, said: “My personal opinions, and we have not discussed this as a town council yet, is that I do not like the sound of this.

“I do understand they have problems and they have a responsibility to try to get what they can from their resources. But this would be no good for Stowmarket, would move the recreation areas well out of town.”

John Phoenix, chairman of Stowmarket Rugby Club, added: “We have had one or two discussions with Mid Suffolk and they have indicated to us that some time in the future some of Chilton Fields might well be used for housing development and there is the possibility of shifting the rugby club.

“But it has been stressed to us that this could be 10 years away at least. We want to get on with the local council, but I would hate to see the council sell off this land and not put any money in to other facilities.”

Ray Lee, the council's assets and contracts manager, said he had a responsibility to maximise the authority's assets, but he could not comment on how much the land would be worth as housing.

john.howard@eadt.co.uk

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