Riverside pitches set to go in £600,000 park improvements

TWO football pitches are likely to disappear from Huntingdon s Riverside Park in a £600,000 improvement scheme proposed by the district council. They will be replaced by two mini-soccer pitches, a multi-use gym area and a reinforced grass area that can be

TWO football pitches are likely to disappear from Huntingdon's Riverside Park in a £600,000 improvement scheme proposed by the district council.

They will be replaced by two mini-soccer pitches, a multi-use gym area and a reinforced grass area that can be used by fairs and circuses visiting the town.

The plan is expected to be approved for consultation by the council's cabinet next week.

A proposal two years ago to extend the car park onto the under-used football pitches so that more people could use the area attracted fierce criticism from residents of Hartford Road, anxious about their amenities and the value of their properties. In what some council officers regard as a cynical move, a number of football teams were created to play there to pretend that the pitches were in heavy demand.

In fact, they had been little used before the car park proposal, said HDC's head of operations, Robert Ward, and Sport England's advice was that they should be replaced by facilities for youngsters.

HDC could not afford £3.4million plans first suggested by its consultants four years ago, but it believes the new plans are affordable and will substantially improve the area, which stretches from the old bridge almost Hartford church, and increase visitor number.

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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 this week.

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, which is used extensively by London rail commuters and employees of social landlord Luminus, 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. Clubs that use the football pitches will be accommodated at Sapley Road.

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.

Mr Probyn was due to meet the Riverside Users Group, formed two years ago to protest at the previous proposals, last evening (Tuesday) to explain the new plans.

"They may still complain about the loss of the pitches, but we are not really changing the use of the land," he said.

"It's a facility that will benefit Huntingdon, not just people living nearby."

The work, which could start later this year following the public consultation, will take around 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.

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