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With local residents we have scored a big win for public open space by defeating controversial plans for a commercial football facility on common land.
Following a seven-day public inquiry, a government-appointed planning inspector has kicked out proposed fenced and floodlit football-pitches in a tranquil and secluded part of Tooting Bec Common, known as the Triangle Field, in south London.
Inspector Richard Perrins concluded that the development, sought by Wandsworth Council, would be an ‘alien feature in the landscape’ which would remove access for informal recreation.
The public hearing in June 2022 was called after the planning inspectorate received a flood of objections to the plan, with some 53 people speaking at the inquiry.
In his decision report, released on Wednesday 30 November, Mr Perrins agreed that the existing site ‘is a much-needed and well-used communal, informal recreation playground and social space’.
He said: ‘Whilst there would be new sports provision, it would not be accessible to all and the development would introduce a great deal of noise and disturbance across a wider area of the Common. It would prevent a large number of existing users of the Common from using it in the way that they are used to. Alongside that, the fencing works would render that currently accessible part of the Common inaccessible for informal recreation.’
Noting on his visits to the site ‘an almost village green like ambience’, he agreed with objectors that the Triangle Field is a ‘tranquil green oasis in this busy part of the city’ and said the new elements ‘would alter the landscape of this part of the Common in a permanent and lasting way’.
They would ‘not be consistent with the immediate more natural and open surrounding landscape. The development would be at odds to that, an alien feature in the landscape, well-lit at night, introducing a utilitarian feature that would look out of place’.
Warmly welcoming the decision, our local correspondent Jeremy Clyne, who represented the society throughout the inquiry, commented: ‘This proposal was so out of place and damaging that I was personally hopeful of a successful outcome. However, we were up against the council and all its resources, represented by a top barrister. The decision is a huge relief for the local community, in both Wandsworth and Lambeth boroughs.
‘I hope that in future Wandsworth Council will be more sensitive to local views and take account of how people on both sides of the borough boundary use and enjoy this and other vital open space.”
Subject to receiving consents the facility was to have been handed over to a private operator. TFC Leisure Ltd, under a 25-year lease, effectively removing it from public use and ownership for the foreseeable future.
Jeremy Clyne added: ‘While Mr Perrins’ report does not fully engage with concerns expressed over the privatisation of common land and the lawfulness of the proposal, his decision should serve as a warning to other local authorities planning commercially to exploit open spaces which they hold in trust on behalf of the public.’