HUNDREDS of residents will turn out today in a last-ditch protest against plans to build houses on what was once one of Hull’s top sporting venues.
The campaign to save the former Reckitt-owned playing field in Chamberlain Road in the city is stepping up a notch with a protest ahead of a crucial planning meeting on Wednesday next week.
Locals have been fighting for years against houses being built on the fields, which were originally set aside for workers of Quaker philanthropist Sir James Reckitt. But they have met their greatest challenge in the form of plans by Barratt Homes Yorkshire, which have won the backing of planning officers and Sports England.
The developer wants to build 100 homes where the bowling greens, tennis and netball courts used to be on the 17-acre field.
What is left would house two adult and two mini-rugby pitches and changing rooms, with the developer also donating funds towards changing facilities at Pelican Park about a mile away.
Campaigners who will gather today in front of the padlocked gates to the sports field, want to preserve the green space, which acted as a “soak-away” during the floods of 2007, and are concerned that if Barratt gets a foothold the rest of the land will eventually be swallowed up by housing.
Sub-postmaster Serji Singh, who has led the campaign, says he can put together a syndicate which would buy the land and then apply for Lottery funding to bring the area back into use for all sports.
He said: “What everybody seems to be forgetting is that this land was given to the city by Sir James Reckitt for the whole purpose of recreation.”
Trevor Kerwin, 70, who will join the protest, said the developers’ offer amounted to “big boys giving out scraps”.
He added: “That field has always been there for the public – it was brilliant, there was always someone playing rugby, football or cricket. It’s a disgrace that houses have to be built.”
Former Hull Dockers player Pete Stephenson, of east Hull, who broke his neck playing rugby in 2005, used to play on the Reckitts site. He said: “Reckitts used to be a real hub for sports, football, rugby, hockey and tennis. What Barratts have put forward looks good on paper but when you look at it we are going to be left with two rugby pitches and a lot of houses built on the back.”
The ward’s three Liberal Democrat councillors, Linda Chambers, Anjie Wastling and Adam Williams, are also against the plans, citing the loss of a greenfield site, potential flood risk and traffic problems, as is Euro-MP Godfrey Bloom.
The UK Independence Party MEP wrote: “I understand Barratt is a profit-making company and it is perfectly proper for them to hold their view. But the astonishing removal of pro bono sports fields in the last 25 years must stop.”
However there have been letters of support, saying the city needs to rely on private developers now that public money is drying up and Sports England’s support “speaks volumes”.
In their submission to planners, Barratt says it will transfer the ownership and long-term maintenance of the facilities to the Hull District Service Area, which manages amateur rugby league pitches in Hull, once the development is complete.
Barratt argues that as there are no public funds available sufficient to buy the land “the only feasible option to bring the site back to public use is through a viable private investment.”
Planners conclude the benefits outweigh the disadvantages and recommend approval. They state: “This is a finely balanced application where the loss of urban greenspace for housing development must be weighed against the benefits of enhanced sporting facilities and new housing.
“In this case it is considered that the sporting and community benefits that would result from this development would justify approval in accordance with local plan policies... and national guidance.”