Protesters fighting to protect a Yeovil park from development have threatened to chain themselves to trees to stop a hockey pitch being created there.
Planning Inspector Roger Pritchard has approved the relocation of a footpath at Yeovil Recreation Centre, known locally as Mudford Rec, paving the way for a £800,000 artificial hockey pitch to be built.
Campaigners opposed to the scheme say it will destroy the town’s main open park land. However, supporters say they are delighted and are looking forward to construction work beginning.
The South Somerset District Council project already has planning permission and work needs to start soon to ensure a grant of £117,000 from the English Hockey Board is not lost.
Ashley Strelling, of Save Yeovil Rec, said the group would continue to fight the council’s plans. He said: “We have been fighting long and hard for this and we don’t intend on giving up any time soon. Members of the public have approached us and are outraged with the whole process. They are talking about strapping themselves to trees. There’s an enormous amount of disquiet about this.”
The pitch will be a new home for Yeovil and Sherborne Hockey Club, which has been desperate to return to the town after moving to Sherborne 11 years ago. The move was prompted by a lack of synthetic facilities in Yeovil.
Keith Walters, chairman of the club, said: “This facility will provide the schools, college and communities of south Somerset with the opportunity to access a purpose-built hockey surface and one of the largest fully accredited hockey clubs in the South West.”
The district council applied to move the footpath as it ran across the proposed pitch site. In his report approving the request, Mr Pritchard said he believed the extra distance people using the path would have to walk “would not be substantially less convenient”. He said the slightly greater distance would be “offset by the all-weather character of the alternative” and the “loss of enjoyment produced by the additional road walking would be limited”.
In a separate ruling, he denied an application for costs by the district council against Bob Tucker, chairman of the Save Yeovil Rec group. The district council wanted Mr Tucker to pay a legal bill of £7,500 which covered extra council spending caused by the adjournment of the initial footpath diversion hearing in November.
Mr Pritchard said the application was “unwarranted”. He added: “Any delay or additional expense incurred by the order making authority was a direct result of their initial error in failing to meet the prescribed timetables.”
A spokesman for the district council said work on the artificial hockey pitch could start within the next seven weeks.
But Mr Strelling added: “This is just the first stage of the process. We believe it has been badly handled. We think it’s riddled with incompetence and untruths.”
The district council spokesman added: “We cannot confirm a definite start date to the works as final details with the contractors is yet to be agreed and it will also depend on their workload as well as other factors such as the weather.
“When we start, the area where work will take place will be safely fenced off so the public will be able to enjoy the other facilities on site.”