Field dispute goes on despite truce attempt

Fences and signs have been put up around the pitches
Fences and signs have been put up around the pitches

Town hall bosses are hoping a compromise has been reached in a dispute between an amateur Wigan football club and neighbours.

Residents had last month been told they were no longer allowed access to Little Lane playing fields in Goose Green.

It was for the public and should still be that way, only having use on matchdays isn’t right, either

Jean Shaw

Club bosses at Winstanley Warriors FC applied for the measures because of anti-social behaviour on the facilities which have recently received significant financial grants.

But residents were outraged their access had been restricted to the land they argued had been gifted to the council for public use.

The town hall has now confirmed residents will be able to use the fields at certain times and hope the compromise will pacify the dispute.

Penny McGinty, assistant director for leisure, property and resources, said: “The club is happy for people to access the site, including dog walkers, for informal recreation when the gates are open as club reps are at the site.

“This is on the understanding that dog walkers behave responsibly by keeping dogs on a lead and pick up after them.

“There are areas off the pitches that are available for informal recreational purposes. The club will not allow entry to people who display unreasonable or anti-social behaviour.”

However Jean Shaw, who lives on nearby Warrington Road, told the Observer any restrictions would be counter to the reasons the field became under the council’s control.

Mrs Shaw has uncovered a 1950s news report featuring the donation of the field from the Billy Butlin organisation. She said: “The field was handed to the council for public use, it was funded by the public who used Butlins holidays.

“It was for the public and should still be that way, only having use on matchdays isn’t right, either.”

She added that claims about anti-social behaviour had been overblown.

The club recently received approval to transform one of its pitches with an artificial surface supported by floodlights. And its grass pitches have benefitted from thousands of pounds worth of grants in recent years. Officials applied for restricted access because of persistent nuisance behaviour.

Club chairman Shaun Rotherham said: “We have had a number of problems with dog mess left on the pitches, vandalism to the clubhouse and equipment, graffiti and we even had needles left from drug users.

“We are providing facilities for 300 kids each weekend and the community is proud of what we’re building here.”

Ms McGinty added: “The club has also confirmed that they are happy for members of the public to directly approach club officials to discuss specific access arrangement.”

According the edition of the Wigan Examiner, the playing fields on Little Lane were gifted to Wigan Corporation from the Billy Butlin organisation in 1956. They were handed over officially at a ceremony attended by Lord Derby in his capacity as treasurer of the National Playing Fields Association. Curiously enough, a councillor made a plea on the day for residents to “protect the field from vandalism.”