‘Stop the squabbling and move on’ says town councillor after hostile reaction to who will run Estover pavilion and playing fields

PUBLISHED: 17:00 05 March 2020

The new Estover playing field in March, and aside right, the pavilion which is nearing completion. Pictures: HARRY RUTTER

The new Estover playing field in March, and aside right, the pavilion which is nearing completion. Pictures: HARRY RUTTER

Archant

“Stop the squabbling and move on” was town councillor Jan French’s reaction to a public outcry over the winning bid by March Town FC to take on the running of Estover playing fields and pavilion.

"We fought to save this field in 2015 for the community and stopped 249 homes being built there," she said.

"The town council has invested a great deal of money in it. Your money. The Estover field is for all to enjoy. Let's get together and stop squabbling over who runs it. It's now a community site."

That hasn't stopped March Academy from looking for answers after they lost out to March Town FC over who should run the site.

"As a club, we are hugely disappointed," a March Academy spokesperson said.

"We have been involved in the project since day one and we are the only club who wanted to be involved.

"I have got no issues with the decision since they had to choose somebody, but we have not been given any reason as to why they were successful."

They now want assurances over their future access to the playing fields and certainty as to whether their 23 teams can continue to play there.

March Academy had formed themselves into a charity - as required - and got their bid in on time.

"We are extremely disappointed with the outcome and all the work we have put in, but we understand March Town Council were given a tough decision," said the spokesperson.

"We just need to understand what this means. Can we play there for the next five to ten years? What are the terms?"

March Town FC will work with March Park Rangers Youth to run the playing fields and promised there would be full access to other teams wanting to play there.

A club statement confirmed that "the use of the facilities by any current clubs and groups is not in jeopardy and we look forward to working in harmony with these groups."

Their statement added: "We can assure the coaching staff, players and families that there is no intention to prohibit the facilities use to this established and valued group."

The club will shortly hold an open meeting to "promote a facility for all, football related or otherwise and for the benefit of the town".

Cllr French said no team would become homeless as a result of new ownership but as both bids were confidential, she was unable to offer the council's reasoning for deciding the outcome.

Other town councillors agreed the decision was unanimous and Cllr Clinton Elkin said he believed it to be "in the best interest of the community".

Cllr Gary Tustin insisted that all football teams "are welcome" and it had been made clear the park will remain available to all who want to use it.

"The decision was made for the benefit of the community not for the benefit of March Academy; you can still play there," he said.

"Kids can still go and have a kickabout on there, adults can go and walk their dogs there, families can go and play there, and this would not be possible if it was houses.

And Cllr Robert White said he attended town council meetings when the decision was taken, which was made "in the best interests of the town and was unanimous".

Gary Higham, writing on social media as both a director of Estover CIC and coach/committee member of March Academy, remains unhappy with the decision.

He disagreed with the statement from the town council that March Town FC had more experience in overall site and clubhouse management.

"Loosely translated they can pull a pint and take the bins out at the end of the day," he wrote.

He was also unhappy that March Town FC had only entered the race to take over Estover at the last moment after March Academy had been looking after it for two years.

Lindsey Galley of March Park Rangers Under 9s said that she hoped as many youngsters as possible regardless of which club they are members would benefit from Estover.

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