THERE have been fresh calls for the consultation process regarding the Croft playing fields to be halted so guarantees can be put in place to secure their future.

The fields are currently included in discussions regarding the long-term lease of the Croft Leisure Centre, along with the town’s other facilities. A second public consultation is being carried out regarding the disposal of the playing fields by means of a long-term lease.

Residents have said they are worried there are not enough safeguards in place to prevent the fields being developed at a later date. However, council leaders have said the worries are unfounded and they will not be stop the consultation.

Neil Hopkins, 62, an HR specialist who lives adjacent to the Croft playing fields, said the council needs to have a re-think.

He said: “I understand and appreciate that the council budgets are stretched and money is tight but this is the wrong course of action.

“There needs to be a point when a council admits it has made a mistake as it has on this. It needs to be done in a non-partisan way so the fields cannot be developed.

“As I understand it, whoever has the lease may try to develop it after three years if they feel the centre is not making adequate money, with the council getting half the revenue.

“Budgets are always going to be tight and I think no matter what the party, that amount of money further down the line would be too hard to resist.

“Not enough has been done to raise awareness of the consultation either. I, and many of my neighbours, have not received notification that it is taking place.

“All we have seen is a small notice in the Croft Centre ,which can hardly be counted as a public place.”

Paula Nunnery has raised her children in Old Town, all of whom have used the Croft playing fields. The fields have a covenant covering them but she feels it may not be strong enough if lease-holders want to develop the site.

She said: “There is such a strong tradition of playing football that it is madness that they are even putting it at risk.

“We are constantly being told our children are obese and need to play sports and yet the council comes up with this plan. It is absolutely ridiculous.”

Old Town councillor Nadine Watts (Labour) said: “What we need to do is make sure the playing fields, the car park and the access road are fully taken out of the consultation.

“When you speak to local residents all of them say the best way to keep the Croft playing fields as they are is to keep them entirely in public use and that is what I am pushing for.

“We have set up a petition which already has 300 signatures, despite only being up since Monday. This is something people feel very strongly about.”

The cabinet member for leisure Coun Keith Williams (Con, Shaw) says the consultation process on the leisure centres will not stop but has moved to ease residents’ fears.

He said: “We are not looking to stop at this stage, because that would send out the wrong message. We have handled the process with care and gone through the necessary due diligence. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to contact everyone regarding consultations.

“There is a covenant covering Croft fields which protects it as an open space and the council is not looking to have the land developed for money. If that were the case we could sell it now and get 100 per cent of the money but we do not want to. If people want to discuss their concerns with me directly, then I will be happy to do so.”

The final recommendations on the consultation are set to be heard at June’s cabinet meeting, though the final decision will go to full council.