Hitchin club at centre of ground battle

THE future of a football ground has been thrown into doubt after a legal challenge to reclassify land occupied by the team has been made by a ‘friend of the club’.

The Top Field stadium, on Fishponds Road, is currently leased by Hitchin Town FC from an unelected group of trustees, The Cow Commoners, responsible for maintaining plots of common land in the town.

Robin Furby, a solicitor who describes himself as a ‘friend of the club’, is assisting Dunmore Developments Ltd to deregister the land in the belief that the Cow Commoners’ claims the site is common land are mistaken.

Mr Furby said: “The trustees mistakenly insist that the land was subject to the right of common to people in Hitchin, therefore they registered common ownership.

“It’s clear that the land was never subject to rights of common therefore we make an application to correct the error, that’s all it’s basically down to.

“There haven’t been any commoners who have grazed their cattle on the common land for the last two to three hundred years. It’s not going to make any difference to anything.

“We want to improve the playing of football and for many years there wasn’t any way of correcting this earlier error.”

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Mr Furby declined to say what developments would take place on the land if he was successful.

Neil Jensen, press officer for Hitchin Town FC, said: “Dunmore are a local development company, they’re friends of the football club and the intention is to develop Top Field.

“All I can tell you is the intention is to develop Top Field and keep the site,”

In a North Herts District Council report, first discussed in cabinet last week, the authority was asked by central government to indentify possible sites for affordable housing and Top Field is mentioned as a low priority pitch which could host 56 dwellings.

However the authority said there are “complications with Charities Commision in bringing the site forward as land should be kept for sporting benefit of the town”.

The Cow Commoners insist that the land was correctly registered and claim they have not been contacted by the applicants.

Maggie Dyer, the group’s chairman, said: “So far as the present Trustees are aware, from information contained in the Minutes Book for the Trust, there was intention, and approval by the then Trustees, to register land owned by the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust as common land.”

“The application now in progress has been made without consent or consultation with that Trust.”

Although the application is in its preliminary stages the ward councillor responsible for Bearton, Judi Billing, would like the town’s residents to be consulted before any major changes are enacted.

She said: “I would be very worried about any moves that are made without a full consultation from the people of Hitchin.”

It is unknown at the time of going to press when a final decision will be made.