The future of Spelthorne’s last natural park is up in the air as residents fight plans to flatten large stretches of Laleham woods for a sports academy.
Spelthorne Borough Council has consulted residents over plans for three football pitches, an academy and a path through the heart of Laleham Park.
Residents gathered at the site – which surrounds the Grade II* listed Laleham Abbey given to the community by the family of Lord Lucan, and features forested land with 200-year-old trees – to call on the council to leave the park as it is.
The bid was submitted by Staines Town Football Club after the council tendered to invite development bids on the land, the sale of which would bring in funds for the authority.
Ray Crane, 68, of Abbey Drive, said: “Laleham Village is a diamond in the rough and we locals are happy to agree to local council rules to make it a conservation area but Spelthorne Council feels it can ignore their employers, us, and do what suits it.
“As witnessed by the turnout of intelligent, decent people, we are not against soccer and even offered other sites close by but the council will not be interested if the solution isn’t to its financial gain.”
David Furst, 63, of Shepperton Road, Laleham, spoke at a photocall organised by residents to show the strength of opposition to the plans.
Despite the awkward time of 9am on Monday, several dozen people gathered to let the council know the academy was not wanted.
Floods every year
Mr Furst said: “We really want the park left as it is so people can enjoy it and families can have picnics. The area singled out for football pitches was completely underwater during the flooding.
“It’s not just this year, it’s every year that area floods.”
Other speakers said there would be an increase in traffic using the, unlit, narrow riverside road.
Vivian Auster, 66, of Shepperton Road added: “This is the last unspoiled land. There are other manufactured parks but this is real park land. It is somewhere to be excited about.
“The forms were a sham, there were no places for names on them, just boxes to tick. Anybody could have picked up a hundred forms and ticked the same box.”
Ken Williams, general manager of Staines Town Football Club, said: “It’s very difficult for us as we are still in negotiations with the council. We just replied to a tender which the council put out.
“There has been no firm decision on where the funding is coming from but, contrary to rumours, it’s not an academy for Sheffield United. It is our academy and we have a link with Kingston College.
“Our academy is in Hampton and the intention is to bring it back into the borough and link in to as many schools as we can. There is no way we want to upset residents. Our application is in response to a request from the council.”
The centre will also be opened up to other sporting clubs that wish to take advantage of the educational facilities on the site.
Councillor for Ashford East, Anthony Mitchell, said Spelthorne will hold an open meeting once it has assessed the consultation. A date and location have yet to be confirmed.