Football club bosses and St Albans council under fire for Clarence Park plans

Clarence Park

Clarence Park - Credit: Archant

A HEATED meeting pitched local residents against the district council and football club bosses over proposed changes to a recreation ground trust.

Over 50 residents of Clarence Road and surrounding streets turned out for a special meeting of the Clarence Park consultative forum last week about proposals to modernise the trust deed for the recreation ground.

And it demonstrated the strength of public opinion against the proposed change which residents fear would open the door to a multi-million pound redevelopment of St Albans City FC (SACFC) and other commercial activities.

The park and recreation ground were given to the people of St Albans by Victorian furniture entrepreneur, Sir John Blundell-Maple, and the trust deed covering the north of the park was written in 1894.

The council is going out for consultation on a proposal to update it because it has thrown up a number of anomalies including the deed only allowing adult sports which, it says, makes it difficult to provide or seek external funding for children’s events.

The south side of the park is owned by the council and used as a public park but SACFC’s agreement to use part of the trust land expires next year and it has asked to extend the agreement and explore the possibility of expanding its stand on to land where the recreation ground borders the public park.

Residents remain to be convinced that the football club – which is also looking at an alternative site for a new stadium off Colney Heath Lane, St Albans – is not planning a multi-million pound commercial development there.

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Campaigner Paul Brecknell said it was clear from the forum meeting that opposition to the proposed changes to the trust deed were unanimous.

He went on: “Time and again the council was unable to give any reason why the changes are necessary.”

Residents did not accept that the trust deed needed updating and described as “inplausible” the idea that it was preventing the council from obtaining grants for children’s activities, he said.

Paul maintained that Cllr Daniel Chichester-Miles, portfolio holder for the environment who chaired the meeting, appeared to have a vision of a park embracing a range of commercial activities, possibly in conjunction with corporate sponsorship.

He added: “If these changes go through it will be the death knell of the park that everyone loves. It is astonishing that the council is unwilling to recognise that what it is seeking to push through is clearly contrary to the wishes of the electorate.”

Cllr Chichester-Miles said he was glad to have an opportunity to hear what people had to say about the proposals to modernise the deed.

He went on: “We know how important the park is to local people so we are keen to be entirely transparent about the changes we are proposing.

“It is clear from the meeting that some people are concerned about making changes to the deed.

“But there is a need to update the deed, which was written in 1894, so that it’s fit for purpose in 2013 and beyond. We want to protect the park for future generations to enjoy and also regularise current arrangements.”