People power in Hitchin forces council rethink on unpopular plan for Smithson’s Rec

PUBLISHED: 11:25 18 January 2016 | UPDATED: 11:25 18 January 2016

Smithson's Recreation Ground. Picture: Jacob Milligan @Jafmilligan

Smithson's Recreation Ground. Picture: Jacob Milligan @Jafmilligan

Archant

People power in Hitchin has forced the district council to do a U-turn on unpopular plans for a park revamp, it was revealed today.

A proposed facelift to Smithson’s Recreation Ground has been amended so it no longer includes a pathway through the middle of the play area – after it was met with considerable opposition from many people in the town.

Fears the intended work would change the fabric of the site – which would also have seen precious playing space where many children play lost to a public path – were alleviated following the change of heart from North Herts District Council.

Councillor Jane Gray, responsible for leisure at the council, said: “The consultation on the initial plans of Smithson’s Recreation Ground received 70 comments from local residents.

“Based on the feedback received, Groundwork Hertfordshire and the council have worked together to refine the plans in order to retain the large grass area in the middle of the site.”

More than 50 people turned up to the park yesterday as part of a peaceful protest against the plans, including many families and children – following a campaign on social media which included a ‘Save our park’ Facebook page.

Jeremy Williams-Leroy, who lives in The Limes nearby and was among the protestors, told the Comet: ”That’s incredible news. I’m almost winded by it!

“I’m very pleased that the council and Groundwork listened to us.

“It must be a victory for people power.

“A lot of people will be very happy the space has been saved.”

Charlotte Prutton, landlady of the nearby Highlander pub, added: “I’m so glad the council have seen sense.

“No-one I talked to thought it was a good idea.

“It was lovely to see so many people in the park yesterday. There must have been 25 kids playing football there.

“I also noticed there were a lot of Year 7 children playing too, which was great because it’s a safe place they can play – which might have been lost if the work have gone ahead.

“Well done to everyone who helped.”

The council confirmed there is a figure of £30,000 which will be spent on the area that will still see improvement work carried out by Groundwork Hertforshire such as flower bed planting.

However, there is no budget available for the refurbishment of the play equipment as the money is specifically dedicated to the development of green open spaces.

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