Residents pitch in over park plans

PLANS for a £600,000 upgrade of Huntingdon s Riverside Park are likely to get a rough ride from residents in the Hartford Road area. Huntingdonshire District Council wants to encourage more people to use the area by making it more attractive and versatile

PLANS for a £600,000 upgrade of Huntingdon's Riverside Park are likely to get a rough ride from residents in the Hartford Road area.

Huntingdonshire District Council wants to encourage more people to use the area by making it more attractive and versatile. The plans would see the removal of two football pitches and the creation of two mini-soccer pitches and a multi-use games area.

But the Riverside Users' Group (RUG), formed to fight an earlier HDC plan to extend the car park, wants the area where there are football pitches to stay as it is.

The group's new chairman, Dudley Simons, conceded after a meeting with council planners last week that there were "positive parts of the proposals", but contested the council's view that the football pitches were under-used.

"I accept they are used for only 180 minutes in any given week, because that's when people want to play football. It's weekends, and usually in the morning, that they are in demand," he told The Hunts Post.

HDC wants to replace the two pitches with mini-soccer pitches on the advice of Sport England. It says the footballers can be accommodated elsewhere, probably on pitches at Sapley Road.

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Mr Simons disputes that there is more demand for mini-soccer than can be accommodated at Hinchingbrooke.

Nor does the group accept the need for an enclosed multi-use games area or a reinforced grass area for use by fairs and circuses. The group fears a creeping expansion of the car park by stealth.

Mr Simons also believes a proposed shelter will become a haven for under-age drinking.

HDC believes its plans are affordable and will substantially improve the area, which stretches from the old bridge almost to Hartford church, and increase visitor numbers.

The lion's share of the money would be spent in the formal area between the bridge and the boatyard. It will include improving the entrances opposite the Old Bridge Hotel and from the ring road, creating a new path inside the park parallel to the ring road, putting up a shelter in the centre of the park, improving moorings and creating formal fishing pegs. Signage to and within the park will also be improved, HDC's planning policy manager, Richard Probyn, said.

The car park will be changed to reduce the impact on pedestrian activities, with the net loss of one space in the main car park, but a small car park will be added to encourage access to the wilderness part of the part downstream of the football pitches towards Hartford church.

"The park has a very good river frontage, it's close to the town centre, but it's a bit disjointed at the moment. The car park almost acts as a barrier [between the formal park and the much larger wild area] so we want to reduce car parking to create a wide green corridor," Mr Probyn said.

Replacement parking spaces will be provided in front of the pavilion and boat club.

The currently free car park will become a paid-for long-stay area from next June.

"Sport England is very keen to ensure that, if we lose recreational space, we make it up elsewhere," he added. "The Riverside Users Group may complain about the loss of the pitches, but we are not really changing the use of the land. It's a facility that will benefit Huntingdon, not just people living nearby."

Gareth Ridewood, Huntingdonshire chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, who also attended the planners' meeting with the group, said afterwards: "Riverside Park should be a showpiece for Huntingdon. It's a wonderful resource.

"The River Ouse valley is wonderful, and it was interesting to see what the council wanted to do with it.

"The RUG would prefer things to stay as they are, but I don't think there would be a problem with the car park proposals."

The work, which could start later this year following public consultation expected to be approved by HDC's cabinet tomorrow (Thursday), will take about two years to complete. Much of the land is in the flood plain, so work will not be scheduled at times of year when flooding is likely.

A strip of land about 10 metres wide at the Hartford Road edge of the Riverside Park pitches will be needed for a bus lane and a new shared-use pedestrian and cycle path, so the adult pitches were doomed anyway, although that work is unlikely to take place until next year.