University should give playing fields to the community

IT was with interest that we read Jon Vale’s article on Hindsland Playing Fields owned by the University of Brighton, which they wish to sell for building.

Willingdon and Jevington Parish Council along with Willingdon Residents’ Association have been fighting to keep these playing fields for the community since 1995.

In 1998 Willingdon and Jevington Parish Council along with Polegate Town Council had a joint feasibility study carried out by Strategic Leisure to identify options for the future sports and recreation use of the Hindsland Playing Fields and the adjacent Brightling Road Recreation Ground.

A copy of this feasibility study is available at the Willingdon and Jevington Parish Council’s Office for anyone who would like to see it. It was identified that a whole host of sports could be carried out on Hindsland for people of all ages, including football, athletics, tennis, cricket, bowls and indoor sports in what was then a reasonable pavilion.

It was also suggested that a cycle way to include a safe routes to school linking up with Polegate and the Cuckoo Trail be developed.

At the time of the feasibility study, Willingdon and Jevington Parish Council set money aside as a fighting fund to try to acquire the playing fields for the community.

The university, however, knowing they could obtain much more money by allowing the playing fields to become a brown field site, would not consider selling it to us for less than £2 million. Today’s price is presumably a great deal higher.

When my wife worked at the university it had staff such as Steve Bull, who was the sports psychologist to Chris Boardman the Olympic cyclist, Ruth Prideaux, the England Ladies Cricket Team coach, Biddie Burgum, hockey supremo and coach for county teams, Joyce Wheeler, England netball coach, as well as some outstanding students such as Gillian Gower who played badminton for England, Alison Hope, who went on to coach the Welsh lacrosse team, many world class ladies cricket players and hockey players to mention a few.

We can understand the present staff and students being dismayed at the university’s decision to want to sell this land for building.

What an opportunity has been missed to coach young people over the years in a variety of sports on these green fields and what was once an all weather hockey pitch.

If the fields had not been allowed to deteriorate we could well have had Olympian athletes wanting to train in our midst this year – another missed opportunity.

When the university decided it was surplus to their requirements all those years ago, partly I believe because of a change in the curriculum to more theory-based courses and also to save money on transporting students to Willingdon, the moral and rightful thing to have done – considering the playing fields were gifted to them in the first place for no cost at all – would have been to give them back to the community so that they would benefit present and future generations of young people wanting to take part in sports and activities close to home.

It is no secret that Willingdon and Polegate are extremely short of recreational space – only having 17 hectares (including Hindsland) instead of the 32.3 hectares which is the National Playing Fields guidance for the population occupying the two areas.

Because of the lack of publicity given to the possible building on this site, as against that given to the Honey Farm Project, many Willingdon residents probably still do not realise the enormity of the effect Wealden’s options could have on our community.

This could possibly have been due to Wealden’s continued insistence on saying Hindsland Playing Fields were in Polegate when 90 per cent of Hindsland and Mornings Mill Farm is in Willingdon. Wealden’s Option 1 is suggesting an employment area be put on Hindsland, a business Park by any other name.

Despite the council advertising its meeting to discuss the LDF Plan, both in the press and notice boards etc in the parish, only 15 residents turned out to attend the parish council’s meeting about it. Despite this poor turnout, both the council and Willingdon Residents’ Association submitted responses expressing dismay at the possibility of these playing fields being built on, especially with no appropriate infrastructure put in place.

It is now too late to respond to the LDF plan but it is never too late for the university to decide that the right and honest thing to do would be to give the playing fields back to the community for their use.

We are sure that if they are allowed to benefit from selling them that the money will not be used to offset students’ tuition fees that we believe the University of Brighton, along with many other universities intend putting up to £9,000 a year.

COUNCILLOR JOHN PRITCHETT,

Willingdon and Jevington Parish Council.