Berkhamsted FC fear they may be forced to move from their century-old ground after the owners offered proposals to sell the land.
The move has angered the club, as well as those who want to protect the green space in the centre of Berkhamsted.
The Broadwater ground was purchased by public subscription in 1923, in a bid to keep the land for sport and green space permanently.
However, Berkhamsted Sports Grounds Charitable Association (BSCGA) now own the land and have indicated that it may be sold off.
Earlier this month, Berkhamsted Town Council unanimously voted to make an application to list the site as an Asset of Community Value, which will need to be approved by Dacorum Borough Council.
Listing the site as an Asset of Community Value will give any developers a bigger hurdle when applying for planning permission, although it will only last for a handful of years.
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While BSCGA have been approached by developers Thakeham Group who are in charge of the Bulbourne Cross redevelopment, near Bourne End.
On the website for the Bulborne Cross redevelopment, it reads: “The Berkhamsted Sports Ground Charitable Association (BSGCA) for some years, has been looking to provide a multi-sport, multi-club centre and a network of new pitches and facilities for teams in dire need of additional pitches that would better support the whole community.”
However, the BSCGGA have insisted that there are no current plans to change the use of Broadwater and that position will not be changing until autumn, at the earliest.
‘The ground was bought by the public to keep the sports ground, so what are the trustees doing?’
That’s something Berkhamsted FC director Grant Hastie is cautious about, because no formal planning applications have been submitted and Dacorum’s new local plan – which sets out potential planning sites for the decade ahead – has not yet been published.
Grant said: “In that sense he can say there are no plans to change the use of Broadwater, it’s factually true but you could wake up tomorrow and find that it’s not the case any more.”
The ground, which has around 2,500 capacity, is right in the centre of the town and by the railway station making it easy enough for supporters to visit, a contrast from the Bourne End proposals.
Grant said: “Supporters like the convenience of the town centre football ground with a purpose built football ground in there.
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“They’re not likely to walk three and a half miles or take their cars, and then be stopped from having a drink or having to take a car back.
“It’s bad news for the supporters and the people who use the club house if we get moved to Bourne End, [because] there’s all sorts of community groups that use the clubhouse.”
Grant notes that the proposals are unpopular with groups who don’t have an interest in the football club.
That includes groups of Bourne End residents concerned the housing development will be disruptive, to Broadwater residents who would rather keep the green space nearby and those concerned about the extra travelling.
Grant said: “You get all sorts of groups opposed to the plans, it wasn’t surprising that the Town Council unanimously wanted to list the ground as an asset of community value, particularly as it was acquired by public subscription by residents of Berkhamsted in the 1920s, who got the money together to buy it.
“The appeal document was there to permanently keep the sports ground or open space. So what are the trustees doing, when that’s what it was there for?
“We know the answer. The land is very valuable and, with that money, you could do a lot for sports elsewhere. But not doing it in Berkhamsted and doing it in Bourne End is particularly likely to get people’s hackles up.”
‘There is no plan to change the situation and we do not expect any news until the autumn’
The developers and BSCGGA have said that the proposals are a ‘once in a lifetime’ option, although similar proposals have been scrapped in recent years.
An early draft of the plan shows the 32-acre site would include nine pitches, including one with a stand for Berkhamsted FC, as well as rugby pitches and youth pitches.
It would provide many more sporting facilities currently on offer, which only include a single football pitch and tennis club.
However, the land is currently on the green belt and that could only change once a local plan is published later this year, meaning no substantial steps towards a move can be taken for months.
Paul Forster, chair of Berkhamsted Sports Grounds Charitable Association said: “As I have said to others, there is no plan at present to change the situation at Broadwater for the Football Club since the only potential re-location option at Bulbourne Cross is not currently in the Local Plan and we do not expect any news until the autumn.
“The Charity does believe that it is in the interests of all Berkhamsted residents if we could develop 32 acres of land that Thakeham have offered to us for community use with a wide range of youth football pitches, rugby pitch, full size all weather 3G pitch and a gymnastics hall in addition to a state of the art FA step 2 stadium for Berkhamsted Football Club.
“In addition a number of other clubs would be interested in making the site a social hub.
“While we would access national sporting grants wherever possible the costs of development would require us to release the value of some of our assets and the most practical and reasonable option is Broadwater.
“However, we do recognize that this has caused a good deal of opposition on social media.”
Paul also added that the BSGCA’s remit included providing facilities for the whole town, which has to be considered alongside the wishes of individual clubs.
Dacorum Borough Council will now consider the application for listing the site as an Asset of Community Value.
As it is currently green belt land, all parties will now have to wait to find out if it’s included in any new local plan.
A spokesman for Dacorum Borough Council said: “‘The possible sale of the Broadwater football ground is entirely a matter for the owners of the site and the Council would not be involved in this.
“Regarding the move to a potential new stadium, the Council could not make a pre-judgement on what would need to be a planning application in due course.
“The site referred to is in the Green Belt and is not scheduled for development in either the current Core Strategy for development (2013) or the emerging draft Local Plan.”
More information on Berkhamsted FC’s petition to Save Broadwater can be found here.
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