22 July marks the second anniversary of a unanimous all-party vote at a full meeting of Swindon Council in 2004 to continue development of Shaw Forest Country Park as a key area of the Great Western Forest – reaffirming a 1994 decision and protecting the former land fill site from threatened development as a football stadium.
Now use of the area for football of a different kind is being considered and Alan Hayward from Sparcells, top, a leader of the original campaign to block commercial development, is saying no to football – again.
Since 2004 a further 10,000 trees have been planted on the former landfill site off Mead Way, including several hundred at a community tree plant day in March; many thousands more will be planted in later phases of work.
A car park is now open to encourage more people to visit the area, but Alan is raising concerns about a large open space in the middle of the forest which has been graded and seeded by Swindon Council as formal playing fields.
He said, "the huge number of people who protested against a football stadium supported a forest with trees and wildflower meadows, an environ-ment for insects, deer and small mammals to thrive. We did not support a recreation area like Mannington with short cut grass, white lines and goalposts. There is no supervision up there. I fear the forest is going to attract hordes of chavs with resultant litter, drink and drugs related waste. This must not be allowed to happen."
He points out that the Swindon Open Space Audit says the town has adequate playing field provision and the soon-to-be-closed Salt Way Primary School has an excellent football field that should be made available to the public.
But Shaw/Nine Elms councillor Nick Martin, who proposed the motion to support the forest in 2004, says the open space in the park will be of benefit to all. "It’s a question of finding a balance of uses for everybody. There are 170 acres for trees and flowers; a 6 acre sports area will provide an amenity for large numbers of people. The council has been approached by youth football clubs and we have a duty to consider how provision for young people can be enhanced."
At the Annual General Meeting members of the Shaw Forest Protection Group on 23 June, members expressed horror that the forest was being considered as a venue for football pitches and the possibility that changing rooms and public toilets could be built on the site.
John Ball wanted to know when the plan for wildflower meadows at the centre of the park, which appeared on the original 1994 Forest Master Plan had been changed to include playing fields.
Andrew Snowden said councillors had worked with the protection group during the 2004 campaign to protect the Shaw forest site from a football stadium development but now are keen to see football being played there. "The protection group wants to know what its status is in the council. We have recognition on signage for the forest park – do we have a say in its development, or do they see the group as a convenient talking shop?"
Sheriden Fisher pointed out that in the public consultation on the future of the forest, after the football stadium debacle, everybody had said they wanted a flower meadow and open space for informal games and family activities. "There was no mention of marked football pitches."
Other members were angry that over the last 10 years school playing fields across Swindon had been sold off for housing development to reduce the number and range of football fields.
Roger Ogle was asked to contact the football league to ask them if they are aware of new school playing fields being made ready at the North Swindon Learning Campus this Autumn and introduce them to facilities managers Equion if necessary.
Shaw/Nine Elms councillor Keith Williams and a member of the Forest Protection Group confirmed that the council had been approached by the North Wilts Youth and Minor Football League to provide more fields to play matches. He added that the master plan had been changed from flower meadows to playing fields in 1996.
The meeting agreed that there was an urgent need to meet senior council officers to discuss the situation.
What’s your viewpoint? Should formal, organised football be permitted on Shaw Forest or not? Let us know your views: publisher@ swindonlink.com (please copy and paste mail address)
For background on the 2004 campaign to block commercial development on Shaw Forest, with lots of pictures, search swindonlink.com for ‘forest’ or go into the archives from April to June 2004.
How the story broke at Swindon Link http://archive.swindonlink.com/news2004/03/shaw_park_news.html
The main arguments are set out at: www.swindonlink.com/news2004/03/shaw_park_background.html
YOUR VIEWS. FOOTBALL OR NOT?
26 June 2006
From: Margaret Rivers, General Secretary , North Wilts Youth & Minor Football League
I have read with interest and dismay the article in the July edition of The Link magazine regarding football being played at the Shaw forest.
I would like to point out the facts regarding youth football in the town and the lack of playing facilities, which contradicts the Open Space Audit quoted by Alan Hayward.
The North Wilts Youth and Minor Football League are the very group that have approached the Council to help provide football facilities for clubs in the town due to the lack of pitches and playing areas in Swindon. The NW&DFL is currently the 15th largest youth league in the country providing organised football for 5,000 children from the age of 7 to 18 years. There is an extreme shortage of facilities in the town forcing many clubs to merge or fold.
Don Rogers, (ex Swindon Town player) has spearheaded a sub committee of Management Committee members of the NW&DFL of which he is President, to challenge the extreme lack of facilities and this very same sub committee have accepted the mission to try secure the future of our national sport in the town.
I will point out for the record the NW&DFL have offered to meet with the Shaw Forest group on more than one occasion, assisted by SBC, but they have for some unknown reason declined every opportunity to meet with us and listen to our proposal
They are not sole owners of the Shaw forest site and have no ownership rights. They are merely a local community group the same as us, taking pride in a site, which is for there for the benefit of the whole community and its members (including lots of children, not CHAV?s)
27 June 2006
From Alan Hayward.
In response to Margaret Rivers’s email, I would like to clarify three points.
Firstly, I personally do not have any problem with greater provision for youth football in Swindon. In fact I welcome it.
However, because a certain councillor has "suggested" that Shaw Forest might be a suitable site for football pitches is to my mind and heart as bad as certain council leaders "suggesting" that Shaw Forest would be a suitable site for Swindon Town’s new stadium which caused the 2004 debacle.
It would be better for the debate to understand why there are inadequate facilities across the Borough rather than taking the offensive over why Shaw should become football pitches rather than a community forest that has been promised for sixteen years.
Secondly, the Open Space audit does indeed say that there is adequate provision. And I quote:
Open Space Audit and Assessment – Adopted August 2004
6.24.11 With regard to junior football pitches there is a shortfall identified of 16.9 pitches. Subsequent research has identified considerable informal usage of school pitches and this would have not appeared in the playing pitch assessment as it is not secured through a formal agreement. This suggests that securing formal community use of school sites may significantly reduce this apparent shortfall in junior pitches.
…so. If the Council would actually pursue the Government’s Extended Schools agenda and make all of the school pitches in the Borough available then there would be quite a surplus. All with changing facilities and convenient access (which Shaw Forest does not have).
Also, the OSA says that there is a surplus of adult pitches in the borough.
Thirdly, Shaw Forest Protection Group has never said that we are the sole owners of Shaw Forest and do not claim to have any ownership of the area. What we do have however, is the best interests of a community forest at our hearts and that very simply defines what this issue is about.
It is a community forest. None of the other woodlands in the remit of the Great Western Community Forest have any sporting provision. Why should Shaw? What use are football pitches to deer, foxes, badgers, butterflies and birds? It is incongrous and inappropriate.
The benefit to the community of this forest is about nature and particularly to young people. If I sit my children in a wild flower meadow for ninety minutes they will have far more interest, excitement and education in what is living there than they will ever get from a short cut grass football pitch.
It is not an option. There were not – and are not – any other wild flower meadows planned for Shaw Forest apart from this area.
2 July 2006
From Brian Burrows
I oppose these plans as we need to keep this as a forest that the people of Swindon created and it beongs to them.
4 July 2006
From Simon Bridewell
What I don’t understand is why, if the master plan for Shaw Forest has included plans for playing fields since 1996, did nobody know about this two years ago when we were celebrating victory over the plan to build a "sports village" on our community forest?
I think it is a crying shame that so many playing fields are disappearing under buildings, with New College and the St Joseph’s School site on Queens Drive being just two examples from recent years.
NW&DFL certainly deserve support from the council in these days of obese children being ferried everywhere by car, but I don’t think Shaw Forest is an appropriate place for formally marked-out football pitches. An informal kick-around with jumpers for goalposts, maybe, but not white lines and changing rooms.
Surely it would be better to stop the madness of building houses on our remaining playing fields, and to arrange for school playing fields to be made available to organisations like NW&DFL, as suggested in the quote Alan Hayward provides from the Open Space Audit and Assessment?
4 July 2006
From Chris Bulzacki, Rushey Platt
I think it’s good for people to play football. Putting in a few goal posts is completely different from building a stadium.