Published: 05:00, 29 May 2022
A football club's bid to fence off part of a playing field to protect their pitch from yobs and dog poo has been kicked into touch.
Fleetdown United FC's plans for an "incursion fence" at Heath Lane Open Space in Dartford divided opinion.
The club argued the barrier was needed to protect the playing surface and improve security following bouts of "unsociable and sometimes destructive behaviour".
They have seen damage to club equipment and frequently have to re-seed pitches due to dog fouling, scorched surfaces from disposable barbecues and nuisance off-road motorbikes tearing up the turf.
Last year the side – who play in the Kent County Premier, the 11th tier of the Football League – celebrated their 50th birthday.
They are now looking to upgrade facilities at the 7.6-acre site to meet rising demand among youngsters.
Funding has been provisionally granted from the FA provided the club can secure an extension of at least 25 years on their lease from Dartford council.
But some park users and dog walkers were furious at the club's fence proposals, saying it would "deny access" for hundreds of people living in the area.
If erected, the gated barrier would exclude the public at weekends and stretch along the western boundary between the clubhouse and homes in Roseberry Gardens.
Many neighbours were sympathetic to the need to tackle tackle anti-social behaviour and the club's expansion but saw the fence as a "step too far".
A petition was set up against the plans. It read: "This area is heavily used during daylight hours by dog walkers, families and children.
"Taking this open area away from the public who do use this area is a selfish act on behalf of Fleetdown FC and an unbelievable act on behalf of an organisation who should have the local Dartford people’s interests uppermost in their minds."
A consultation was also carried out by Dartford council to seek people's views.
In total, 414 responses were received, of which 323 opposed the proposal and 91 were in favour. An additional 10 agreed with the lease but not the fence.
On Thursday, the council's cabinet met to consider both matters. Several residents who are against the plans attended the meeting, as well as a representative for Fleetdown.
West Hill's Cllr Drew Swinnerd (Con), lead member for parks, open spaces and heritage, objected to the fence proposals.
He said: "My view is there shouldn't be a fence that would restrict access to the public."
"This is about coexistence and we have got to find a way but I don't think the answer is to fence it off."
Cllr Swinnerd added he was "sympathetic" to the club's needs but felt uneasy a large area that "had been enjoyed for many years by members of the public" could suddenly be off limits.
He pointed towards Hesketh Park in Dartford, where there is a cricket ground and public access, as a potential model for future relations.
Cabinet member Cllr Andy Lloyd (Con) agreed with extending the lease and supporting the club, but rejected the fence.
"This is a rock and a hard place," he said. "I think the club have been great for the area and the people enjoy watching them play football.
"But it is also an area enjoyed by the local residents, so to fence it off and deny access when it is not being used would in my mind be wrong and I would not support that."
Council leader Cllr Jeremy Kite said he was similarly torn in reaching a decision.
"I know them [the club] to be extremely good people and they work very hard," he explained. "They are doing what they do because A, they love football and B, they love the community."
But after visiting the site prior to discussing the plans with members, Cllr Kite concluded an incursion fence would be a "scar" on the land.
"This is about coexistence and we have got to find a way but I don't think the answer is to fence it off," he added.
"There is a whole range of things we can do for the club to tackle anti-sociable behaviour and dog mess."
Cllr Kite pointed towards a "green solution" in the form of hedgerows and clearly marked boundaries to better protect the space.
As well as committing to "improve its partnership" with the club, the Tory leader said the council would also look into helping secure better storage facilities and "beef up" existing gates.
However, he said the club's demands for council CCTV was "out of the question" given the existing high demand for it in other parts of the borough with more serious crime.
It's the second "common sense" solution to a fence problem proposed by the leader in under a week after a row emerged in Temple Hill over the use of bamboo to protect tenants' privacy.
All cabinet members agreed to approve the club's lease extension.