Shaftesbury Town Council has backed a plan that will create two new town centre public car parks and an artificial playing surface to replace Shaftesbury Football Club’s grass pitch.
Cllr Alex Chase said the new, long-term, pay-and-display and permit parking areas on Coppice Street represented ‘the single biggest step proposed to fix the parking problem that has dogged our town centre for decades’. Parking fee income would support the town council community grants fund.
You can hear more about the proposed parking arrangements in our report.
One of these two, new, official parking areas will occupy Shaftesbury FC land. Alex told Alfred that the town council and SFC had reached a mutually beneficial arrangement. The club offered their forecourt with thirty parking bays for permit-holders if the council helped to secure a £350,000 loan to pay for a 3G all-weather pitch. The Town Council will also back the project with £100,000 from its reserves.
The football club’s welfare officer Donna Lane explained how an artificial playing surface will allow more groups to play and train. The 3G pitch will not become muddy following repeated use.
Donna told councillors that around 300 SFC members currently play in the various teams each week. Adding the FIFA-approved, realistic 3G playing surface at Coppice Street would mean that players would not have to travel for practice. Councillors heard that the future of Guy’s Marsh youth pitch is uncertain as the prison is expanding.
The interest in this project was evident by the sizeable online meeting audience. 66 locals logged in. That’s a record for these town council Zoom sessions. In comparison, a council meeting last week was viewed by just one resident.
But not everyone was fan. Cllr John Lewer was concerned that ongoing maintenance charges for the pitch had not been accurately costed. And he was uncomfortable that one organisation’s project was receiving such significant financial backing.
Cllrs Lewer, Peter Yeo and Karen Tippins wanted to separate the car park decision from the football club project. They were defeated on that proposal by six votes to three.
During the debate, Cllr Tippins voiced a stream of objections which were addressed by councillors one-by-one. The mayor, Cllr Andy Hollingshead, advised Cllr Tippins that her statement that there were other 3G pitches available in town was incorrect. He also challenged her assertion that the football club retained many directors from the time when it went into liquidation. We were told that comment was not true.
Cllr Peter Yeo also raised several objections which followed a similar line to Cllr Tippins’. He has consistently opposed SFC projects such as the car wash. Cllrs Yeo, Tippins and Lewer voted against the inter-linked car park and artificial pitch projects.
But SFC fans got the news they wanted. Councillors voted six-three in favour of pursuing the car park plan and the loan for the 3G pitch. That’s if the business plan stands up following further scrutiny.
Cllr Chase advised that the project team would ensure that ‘the business case is absolutely watertight’.
After the meeting, Cllr Lewer told Alfred that if there is clarity over some uncertainties surrounding the costings, he would back the majority decision. “I don’t bear grudges and have vendettas in the same way other people do,” Cllr Lewer said.