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Fishponds Playing Fields to close to the public

Fishponds Playing Fields to close to the public

| by Tooting Newsie | Posted in News

Fishponds Playing Fields in Tooting, which was opened to the public in January for the duration of lockdown, will close to the public on 29th of March, and will only be accessible when booked by organised sports teams.

Wandsworth Council have issued the following statement:

As the name implies, Fishponds Playing Fields exists for the use of local schools, colleges and sports clubs for organised team sports like football, rugby and cricket. As one of a scarce number of designated sports pitch sites in the borough it is not compatible with general leisure use.

Because organised team sports were not permitted under Covid regulations we took the decision to open up these sports pitches for the use of the local community so they had somewhere to exercise during lockdown. However we made it clear from the outset that once lockdown rules eased and team sports were once again permitted this general use would come to an end, but that the local community can still access the space when it is open for organised teams sports.

In a normal year Fishponds Playing Fields is used by local clubs and schools for more than 1,600 hours of sports activities – equivalent to more than 1,000 football matches, and national sports organisation Sport England, which reports to Government and has statutory planning powers, has classed Fishponds as designated playing fields.

We fully recognise the importance of sports and physical activity to keeping people mentally and physically well and the role it plays in creating strong communities which is why we do so much to protect and safeguard all our valuable sport pitches across the borough.

Forever Fishponds, a local group who have been campaigning for the space to be open to the public, have written a letter to Councillor Steffi Sutters, Cabinet Member (Community Services and Open Spaces), which reads:

Thank you for your email of 14th March letting us know of the Council’s decision to close Fishponds Fields from 29th March.

This is a great disappointment, as the benefits of opening have been huge as outlined in our letter of 2nd March. Having open space nearby for play and exercise has been a lifeline
for hundreds of local families in the past few weeks.

We particularly regret that the closure coincides with the beginning of Wandsworth schools’ Easter holidays, a time when families need outdoor exercise opportunities and fresh air for their children more than ever. We appreciate that organised sport will be allowed to resume on 29th March, but in practical terms, it seems highly likely that bookings by clubs and schools will be low, especially as football will not be possible, now that the goals have been removed. For the most part, the Fields will stand empty and unused at a time when they could not be more needed.

We ask the Council to reconsider its decision.

The case for keeping the Fields open to support physical and mental health, as outlined in our previous letters, remains strong. The restrictions of lockdown on socialising and other activities will be only be slightly eased for most individuals and families in the next few weeks, so access to nearby green space continues to be vital in recovery from Covid. Sport England emphasise the need for environments where everyone can be active.

We are grateful for the Council's efforts to make the opening since 30th January run smoothly. As mentioned in our letter of 2nd March, we would welcome the opportunity to review the experience of opening with you. If there are specific concerns that are obstacles to continued opening, we would like to understand these and perhaps explore mitigating strategies.

We hope you will understand the disappointment and frustration that people living in the area around the Fields will feel at the loss of a major boost to their quality of life. This area of Tooting is disadvantaged in many ways, not least in its distance from other open space, as the Council recognises. From the copious feedback received, it could not be clearer that local people have clear expectations of local access to a local space.

These are legitimate expectations. In fairness to Tooting’s residents, we trust that the Council will think again and allow public access to the Fields to continue.

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