Hitchin Town Football Club ground could be relocated in new plans

HITCHIN Town Football Club could be relocated and its current ground sold, it was announced today (Friday).

The Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust, which owns the Top Field ground, wants to move the club, in partnership with property developers New Road, to a new purpose-built football ground south of Stevenage Road, opposite Kingshott School.

The club would include a full-sized pitch, an Astroturf pitch, three netball courts, a supporters’ club hall and changing rooms for home and away teams and for juniors.

Top Field would then be sold.

It follows a public inquiry in December, which sought to deregister the land as common land.

At the time of that inquiry, which later deregistered the land, Robin Furby, retired solictor and “friend of the club”, had said the application was just to correct an error.

It had also emerged at the inquiry that if the land was to be sold, it would have to be replaced with somewhere of better or equal value.

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Keith Hoskins, town centre manager, said: “I would of course be pleased to see any improvement in sporting facilities for Hitchin. But my alarm is what happens to the existing Top Field.

“I would resist by every means possible any use of Top Field which was not residential.”

• The full statement from the Cow Commoners and New Road Ltd says: “The Trustees of the Hitchin Cow Commoners Trust (‘The Trust’) and the Directors of New Road (Clifton ) Limited (‘New Road’) have announced a joint development proposal for the Hitchin Town Football Club premises at Fishponds Road, Hitchin (known as ‘Top Field’).

“This will see the relocation of the football club to a new purpose built football ground south of Stevenage Road, Hitchin (opposite Kingshott School) with greatly improved facilities as required by the Football Association. In addition, the development will provide further community sports facilities for the benefit of the town.

“The Trust is the freehold owner of Top Field and this originates from an order of the Land Commission in 1886. With the arrival of the railway to Hitchin in the mid-19th century, the ancient cow commons of Bury Mead and Cock Mead were extinguished and money was given in compensation and held by a Trust for the ‘Cow Commoners’ who could not be traced. The Trust then purchased various parcels of land (including Top Field) originally for any ‘Cow Commoners’ who wished to graze cattle and subsequently for the people of Hitchin to play sports.

“The current Trust was granted charitable status in 2006 with the key objective ‘for the benefit of the community through the provision of facilities for the charitable use for cricket, football or other sports or for other general charitable purposes for the benefit of the inhabitants of the town of Hitchin.’.

“Hitchin Town Football Club has (via an earlier guise) been in occupation of Top Field since the turn of the century. The Football Club’s current occupation is permitted by a commercial lease from the Trust to Celeriter Limited. This lease was granted in 1999 and is due to expire in March 2013. New Road are a well-established, local property development company with many years experience and a proven track record in delivering high quality, viable and sustainable mixed use schemes.

“The existing Top Field football club was largely built in the 1950s and 1960s. The pavilion was last extended in the mid 1970s. As such it is in urgent need of modernisation but the Trust have neither the finance nor the ability (as it is restricted by the nature of the Trust) to invest in new facilities at Top Field.

“The Trust is continually reviewing its objectives and constantly receives approaches from local and national developers and housebuilders. As part of this process, the Trust received a proposal from New Road to exchange Top Field for alternative land on the outskirts of the town, complete with a new ‘turn-key’ community sports facilities to enable the Trust to carry out its objectives.

“A key factor of the New Road proposal, is the ability to forward fund the new community sports facility before Top Field is developed. This is required to allow a seamless transfer of the Football Club to its new premises.

“The proposal would mean that Top Field would be sold and redeveloped in exchange for the new ground and facilities.

“This proposal does not affect the land owned by the Trust within Butts Close (south of Fishponds Road). Further discussions with the proposed developer will invoke the normal process for obtaining planning permission for both sites and will include public consultation.”