Published: 09:55, 12 August 2019
| Updated: 10:07, 12 August 2019
Development plans which could have helped secure the future of a sports club have been rejected by councillors.
Ashford Hockey Club's application to build nine new homes was turned down by 10 votes to seven last month amid concerns it is "unsustainable" and includes new facilities on land liable to flood.
The scheme would have seen an existing pitch converted into residential properties, and two replacement football pitches opposite the club entrance on the other side of Ball Lane for Kennington Junior Football Club.
Ashford Borough Council officers concluded the plans would help raise the £220,000 needed to replace a "worn-out" astroturf hockey pitch, as well as additional money for clubhouse and changing room improvements.
But the majority of elected members were unconvinced.
Speaking as ward councillor, Cllr Nathan Iliffe (Con) said at the meeting on Wednesday, July 31: “I want to see them stay in Kennington for decades to come, however I cannot support this application.
“I sympathise with the position the club finds itself in, but only to a point.
"The replacement of this hockey pitch is not a new concern – the need for its eventual renewal would have been known about for some years.
“This leads me to question why more was not done before to secure funding.
"Hundreds of other sports clubs across Britain manage to raise funds of this nature without resorting to giving up a large part of their assets.”
He later offered to lobby for external funding on behalf of the hockey club, despite suggestions all revenue options had already been pursued.
It is not the first time concerns have been raised about the motivation behind the development, with the matter having been previously deferred twice by planning committee members.
Speaking on behalf of the club, Roger Lightfoot added: “Experts say they expect this to be the last season hockey can be played before the astroturf pitch has to be closed on safety grounds.
“A new pitch costs well in excess of £220,000 – the club does not have this money despite generating £15,000 a year through fundraising and grant applications. Our members already pay some of the highest fees in Kent.
“The club has only £8,000 in the bank and cannot afford a replacement pitch.
"The future of hockey and football at Ball Lane is therefore seriously threatened, but this application can change that.”
'Residents are ready to give the much-valued club their full support in raising the money required for improvements through fund raising and other means...' - Mark Street
Although the proposal had been supported by a large number of club members – many of whom attended the meeting – some residents did object on varying grounds.
Mark Street added: “If you approve these plans, you’re setting a very dangerous precedent as you will give developers a green light to target other playing fields in the area.”
The project was supported by – among others – Cllrs Gerry Clarkson, Paul Clokie and Jessamy Blanford (all Con) – the latter suggesting the application should be approved for the hundreds of “younger people” who regularly use the facilities.
But the scheme was refused based on the lack of local facilities for new residents, and the placing of the football pitches on land which is susceptible to flooding.
Cllr Diccon Spain (Lab) concluded: “I don’t believe these pitches adequately replace the provision that exists (due to the flood risk), and the local facilities – other than the local pub – are beyond 800 metres away.
"That does not comply with council policy.”
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Street added: "The hockey club's amazing playing fields, set against the stunning backdrop of the Wye crown, are a much valued local asset.
"Even though the hockey club's plans to raise money by building on these fields were rejected by the council, residents are ready to give the much-valued club their full support in raising the money required for improvements through fund raising and other means."
Read more: All the latest news from Ashford
More by this authorDean Kilpatrick, local democracy reporter