A CRICKET club's plan to build a three-storey block of flats on land used for youth football in Abingdon has been condemned by Sport England and residents.

The Northcourt Lane site is owned by Abingdon Vale Cricket Club but has had an agreement with Abingdon United Football Club since 2013 to use the field in exchange for maintaining the land.

Currently around 50 boys and girls aged from seven to 14 play on the field from the club's youth teams several times a week.

But this has now been thrown into doubt following the submission of an application by the cricket club to Vale of White Horse District Council to build 10 flats on the site.

Abingdon Vale says the flats would allow the club to fund improvement and expansion plans to 'secure the future' of the group.

Football club secretary John Blackmoor said Abingdon United, which rents its main pitch from Vale next to the site, did not wish to formally comment, calling the situation 'too personal', but had instead forwarded the application to government body Sport England.

He said: "It seemed the appropriate thing to do. Obviously we are concerned on two grounds, firstly the loss of green grass to build homes yet again, and second it is right next to our adult pitch so there is always that possibility maybe we could be next."

Sport England principal planning manager Ben Sharples has now submitted an official objection on behalf of the organisation, stating there is a 'clear need' to retain the land for football use.

The Vale council's leisure department has also opposed the flats on similar grounds.

Residents, meanwhile, have raised concerns about the loss of green space as the land falls within the Northcourt Conservation Area, as well as the impact of increased traffic on the narrow lane.

Paul Wenman, who lives opposite the field, said: "I am concerned that, little by little, we lose these spaces until suddenly they are all gone.

"An appraisal of the conservation area in 2008 found a key point about the future management of the site was to ‘preserve the rural ambience of Northcourt Lane’."

He added a 'restrictive covenant' on the land dating back to when it was sold in 1946 also stipulated no buildings other than a sport pavilion should be built on the site.

Abingdon Vale president Julian Shellard, in a statement submitted with the application, however, insisted there were valid financial reasons for the proposal, saying: "To some degree we have now become a victim of our own success as the continued growth of the club will, shortly, outstrip the resources to maintain it."

He explained the cricket club's income was currently around £32,000 a year but with expenditure at £35,000 this meant cash resources were 'being eroded' and the ability to invest 'limited in large part to maintaining the status quo' and only 'very selective' replacement of expensive equipment.

Mr Shellard added: "We operate in a highly competitive sporting and social market place and without considerable additional capital investment we will find it increasing difficult to do so."

Mr Wenman, who is also a member of Abingdon Rowing Club, said while he could sympathise with the cricket club's desire to raise money it should not come at the expense of the football club.

He added: "I can understand funding is a struggle for any amateur sports group - we could do with more money ourselves.

"The gain in facilities for the cricket club, however, would not compensate for the loss of a football pitch available for so many kids to use."

Comments can be submitted until November 1 via whitehorsedc.gov.uk, with a decision date on the application expected by December 28.