A STRENUOUS two-year battle to save a junior football pitch will reach a climax at a public hearing next week.

A cricket club trying to get approval for unpopular plans to build a three-storey block of flats on a field used by more than 50 junior football players will have its appeal evaluated.

Having had its application rejected twice by Vale of the White Horse District Council, Abingdon Vale Cricket Club will now have its appeal heard by a planning inspector on Wednesday.

The cricket club, which currently operates at Hales Meadow on Culham Road, Abingdon, owns the land on Northcourt Lane.

Its first application for the former cricket pitch, seeking permission for a block of then two- and three-bedroom flats and a car park, was refused in February 2019.

After chopping the number of flats to nine and 'significantly reducing' the size of the second floor, as well as the overall footprint, the plan still received major backlash and permission was refused in the summer.

ALSO READ: No jail for Oxford school teacher who abused woman at Thorpe Park

Herald Series:

The cricket club faced a slew of objections from councillors, residents and the government body Sport England.

More than 54 neighbours raised concerns including fears over traffic increase on the narrow Northcourt Lane, the land being in a conservation area, the 'inappropriate' character of the plans for a rural area and the loss of a community football pitch.

Campaigner Paul Wenman said residents have grown 'angry and frustrated' as the battle had dragged on.

He said: "I was surprised that the developer put up a second proposal and then launched an appeal – it's a mystery as to why they submitted it.

"We (the local community) are not being paid to work on this and to write letters, respond to applications and so on.

"It is wasting our time and the council's time, which equates to taxpayers money."

ALSO READ: Lebanese vegan food is richer than what Comptoir Libanais has to offer

Herald Series:

Mr Wenman, who lives opposite the field, is one of the 54 residents who have submitted a joint statement to the council outlining the alleged negative impacts of the plan, which he said 'majorly outweigh any positives'.

He added: "Any benefits won't affect the community.

"There is a big feeling of injustice amongst everyone."

Currently around 50 boys and girls aged from seven to 14 from Abingdon United's junior club play football on the field several times a week.

Objecting to the planning application, town councillor Helen Pighills pointed out there are no similar facilities in North Abingdon and that not all children can easily travel to South Abingdon.

Ms Pighills added that the former cricket pitch is an ideal location for smaller sized playing fields for younger football groups.

ALSO READ: St Birinus schoolboy, 13, found in Abingdon

One Caldecott Road resident Karen Stribling wrote to the planning committee: "My 13-year-old son has played for one of these teams for the past seven years and he would be devastated if the loss of these pitches meant that he would no longer be able to play.

"Surely at a time when the government is trying to encourage young people to become more fit and active, we should be trying to preserve this ground as a sporting facility for present and future use.

"There is already a severe shortage of pitches available for youth teams to use in Abingdon and to lose even more would be disastrous."

However, documents submitted on behalf of the cricket club continue to argue the flats are needed to secure the financial future of the club and improve its facilities at Hales Meadow on Culham Road.

It stated Abingdon had become a 'victim of its own success' adding: "The continued growth of the club will, shortly, outstrip the resources to maintain it."

The submission explained that the club's income is currently around £32,000 a year, while annual expenditure was £35,000.

Next week's appeal will be heard at the Milton Park Innovation Centre, Park Drive, starting at 10am. Members of public are welcome to attend.

To read more about the major application, visit whitehorsedc.gov.uk using reference code P18/V2449/O.