A project for new and improved community facilities in Toothill being suggested by the Toothill Big Local (TBL) committee has run into some flack from residents after information was circulated by Swindon Council ward councillors Jim Robbins, Kevin Small and Steph Exell.
TBL, which has responsibility for spending a £1 million lottery grant allocated to the area, is putting forward various options including the suggestion that Toothill Community Centre, pictured above when it opened at the village centre in 1984, be replaced by flats. That centre would be relocated in modular construction of a hall and meeting rooms with a licenced bar next to Toothill Farmhouse on Bodiam Drive, about 800 metres away – pictured below.
The plans drawn up for TBL by Ensen Design of Hertfordshire propose that the farmhouse be converted into offices and a children’s club, whilst the green area around the farmhouse include car parking, a floodlit 5-a-side football pitch, an adventure playgroup and a basketball court.
At this stage it must be emphasised that these are only outline proposals to establish whether officers in Swindon Council’s planning department consider them acceptable, before any detail is drawn up for consideration, and, in a statement from TBL, there are various options being considered and residents will be asked to vote on their preference.
In a statement, TBL says: ‘At the heart of this community is the Toothill Community Centre. We have been asked to look at ways of improving the community facilities and ensuring that these are sustainable within the available budget. There are several ways of achieving this, from upgrading the existing community centre, replacing this on site at the village centre, or building a new centre elsewhere in Toothill.
‘Included in this would be proposals to utilise existing locations should the community decide to relocate facilities. We are now in the process of costing these to help everyone understand what the Lottery money could fund.
‘All of this involves working with construction and planning experts, and the relevant departments within Swindon Borough Council as well as our local councillors. Whether a bar is included in any of these proposals is governed by the advice of our national managing body, the Local Trust, and Swindon Borough Council who retain overall responsibility for any community facilities in Toothill.
‘Toothill Big Local will be hosting an open consultation on Saturday 17 September where we will have lots of detailed ideas and proposals for you to consider. More details will be explained by newsletter, posted on our Facebook page and Twitter link and in the September issue of the Link magazine.
‘Ultimately, the role of TBL is to provide options for the community to evaluate. The decision as to what is chosen is within the hands of the community – and every vote counts.’
However the councillors’ letter circulated to residents living close to the farm has sparked a fierce reaction. Cllr Robbins said: “We stated that the council should ensure TBL carries out an initial consultation to gauge reaction from people living closest to the farm, but this hasn’t taken place. We strongly believe that those most closely affected should be involved at an early stage.
“We believe in improving community facilities in Toothill, so we’re interested to know if residents are supportive of the proposal and that it is sustainable.”
Hayley Iles Sproule, who lives in Warnford Close, next to the farm site expressed worries about the outline proposal: “In all honesty I’m not really keen on the idea. It all sounds lovely and much of it is needed around here, we need more parks and children’s clubs.
“But I’d really love to see an improvement to our existing community centre rather than have them build a new one right next to my house. It seems they want to have a bar and I worry about the kind of people it would attract to my street.
“It sounds good in theory but unfortunately, in reality, it just won’t work. I wish we, the residents of Toothill, had been consulted on these plans, we should be having a say in how this money is going to be spent.”
Mick Fletcher, who also lives in Warnford Close, said: “I like the idea of more community facilities. I sometimes go to the bar at the community centre, so having it near to my home is interesting though there are security issues to be looked at.”
His wife Dori commented: “I’m not sure if putting a community centre off Bodiam Drive is the right place. My great concern is the lack of car parking in our area. Already there are cars parked on pavements and in cul-de-sacs, a fire engine had difficulty getting into our road last year.”
Near neighbour Marion Warren, who has lived in Toothill since 1978, added: “I was surprised when I read the letter from the councillors. It strikes me there is a perfectly good community centre next to the shops and doctors’ surgery. I imagine people living close-by will be concerned about floodlights around the football pitch, and there could be problems with noise.”
People living in houses in Beverley, who back onto the farm site on the north boundary, are not impressed by what they’ve read. Michael Browster said: “Quite honestly, I’m fuming about it. The basketball court will be about 25 feet from my back gate and the thought of the constant thumping of balls makes me angry. These houses were built about 40 years ago and we’ve enjoyed a relatively quiet existence overlooking the farm site. To have that change will upset a lot of people.”
Along the road, a resident unwilling to be identified, said his house would be next to the 5-a-side football pitch. “It’s a misconceived idea which I oppose on every level; this is a residential area, it’s not appropriate to develop leisure facilities in the middle of it. Apart from the floodlights which will intrude on all the houses surrounding the site, we don’t want the noise, the extra parking on the streets, or people drinking late into the evening in a licensed bar or around the outdoor play areas.”
By contrast Sylvia Levett, 79, and her husband Peter, 80, who overlook the farm at Beverley, said they would not mind living next to the basketball court. “We’re both keen on sports and think having more recreation opportunities in the area is a good thing. We moved here about five years ago and find it very quiet.”
On the west side of the farm at Chepstow Close, Rob Lancaster said: “We moved here in December 2015 because the area is quiet. The legal search did not show any plans for the farm site, so receiving the letter from the councillors was a shock. The floodlights from the football pitch would shine into the back bedroom and it will be impossible to use the back garden for about 8 months of the year. Apart from that, traffic congestion, noise pollution, security and safety are all issues of objection. I’m sure everybody will be worried about house prices; if this gets serious, we’ll be looking to move.”
Lisa Corcoran, the licencee of Toothill Community Centre bar, is incensed by the project. “I’m disgusted about all this. I had a call from my mother who received the letter then saw it on Facebook. To see I could be out of job from Facebook was terrible.
“We were in discussion with Toothill Big Local about a major refurbishment of the community centre and plans were drawn up; what’s happened to them? I don’t understand why they’re talking with the council and local councillors before talking to residents. Something is not right; we need a public meeting as quickly as possible.”
Another person whose job is threatened is community centre manager Emma Tanner who said: “This has come as a surprise. Swindon Council is investing in building improvements at the moment and the big local has funded a new CCTV system to improve general security and make the area around the centre safer for users and staff.
“I can see Toothill Farm as an additional facility but replacing a building at the centre of the community does not make sense.”