Moves to erect a fence around a junior football club blighted by yobs and vandals have sparked opposition from neighbours.
A letter revealing “tentative” plans for the 2.4m fence around Mill Hill Recreation Ground, in Acklam, was sent out last month – with the aim of halting trouble at the home of Cleveland Juniors FC.
But the early proposals triggered disquiet from some Acklam folk who didn’t know of the plans and wanted access to the field retained.
Mill Hill resident Beverley Delforno said the “majority of residents” had objected to the 2.4m fence plans and were concerned about the lack of consultation and space being cut off.
She added: “The sides of the fence leave very little space at the back – and the bit that’s left is very boggy anyway.
“You couldn’t use it to play sports or for a family to picnic on.
“Our objections were it was a step too far.”
Cleveland Juniors FC have had to battle broken glass, hypodermic needles, dog mess and vandalism for years at Mill Hill.
In July, Middlesbrough mayor Andy Preston said all options needed to be considered for the club – including a fence – with a “serious conversation” required about safety at the playing fields.
Middlesbrough Council is continuing a consultation with residents and users of the field to seek their views on what could happen next.
Meetings have been held in recent weeks between club officials and residents with worries and plans put forward as alternatives to an 8ft boundary fence.
The mayor and council officials met Ms Delforno and club chairwoman Michelle Rush to talk over the plans on Wednesday in a bid to find some common ground (September 9).
But Ms Delforno said there was “a lot of anger” that residents didn’t know about the fence proposal until very recently.
She added: “When we met on Wednesday, the council said they had received over 500 emails from residents, they were aware there were leaflets distributed by the residents.
“We actually printed and distributed 2,000 leaflets in the four days we had available to us.
“The council said there’d been a massive response with the majority from residents opposing it.”
Ms Delforno claimed some of the littering on the field was down to some club youngsters and parents leaving cups, bottles and crisp packets behind on the field.
She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service residents had also disputed the levels of anti-social behaviour reported – adding there was frustration 2016 plans for a fence around the clubhouse hadn’t come to fruition.
Ms Delforno said: “We’re not saying there isn’t drug paraphernalia there, we accept there is – but if you look, it’s mainly around the car park, which we agreed should have a gate, and the clubhouse which should be fenced.
“Residents would have welcomed that as that would be better for our community too.”
Ms Delforno said residents weren’t necessarily against the club but hoped alternative plans for extra CCTV, a fence around the clubhouse, extra bins and more gates would be a possible solution the club could agree on.
Trouble every night
Trouble at football fields around the borough is nothing new.
Kader FC erected a fence around its pitch in 2017 to protect its young players from standing in broken glass and dog poo.
Cleveland Juniors took on the land from Middlesbrough Council in 2013 on a 25-year lease following a Community Asset Transfer – with its changing rooms opened the following year by former England and Boro boss Steve McClaren.
The club has two adult mens’ teams and supports 227 kids across 14 teams, with youngsters put through coaching and refereeing courses by the club when they turn 16.
No planning permission has been submitted for any mesh fence yet at Mill Hill.
Ms Rush said the club had faced trouble with anti-social behaviour for six years.
She believed a lot of residents didn’t dispute the level of anti-social behaviour going on – just the fence idea.
The club chairwoman added: “We’ve been working with the council for the past six years.
“There’s been extra patrols, extra wardens – I did request CCTV from the council but that was denied.
“We had a gate and we locked it every night – but over a two year period the locks were cut almost every night, either by police needing to get in, or those causing anti-social behaviour.
“The gates were damaged so badly they ended up being taken away.”
We’ve seen these plans before
Ms Rush explained the club had received a £55,000 grant from the FA to improve the standard of the pitches at Mill Hill over six years.
But she revealed a wheelie bin had been set on fire on the penalty spot of one ground within a week of the first batch of money being spent.
Ms Rush added: “If we look at this money – is it going to improve the state of the pitches when there is nothing to secure the pitches themselves?”
Planning permission for a fence around the clubhouse was granted in 2016 – but Ms Rush explained pushing ahead with the move would have removed any avenue of protecting the pitch.
The club official added the club had spoken to the council about kissing gates, CCTV, a large gate and fencing the back of the clubhouse off to make it safe in the past – but it never came to fruition.
She said she’d go back to the club’s committee and parents with the scaled down proposals ahead of another meeting next week.
“We’re not going to commit to anything without doing that and the meeting next week is to see what the council can actually deliver,” added Ms Rush.
“The fence proposal is still in place, and I appreciate there are a number of residents who don’t want a fence up.
“However, there is access all the way around the field and there will be a portion of the field left for dog walking.
“The field is primarily a sport and recreation field.
“Cleveland Juniors runs on a completely voluntary basis – that doesn’t happen in this area.
“Big football clubs have chairmen who are paid a lot of money and coaches who are paid.
“That applies to most clubs and we don’t – we’re completely run by volunteers so we can reach the kids who can’t afford to pay these substantial subscription fees.”
Smashed glass and needles
The chairwoman said trouble on the fields had worsened since covid – adding the club had compiled six years’ worth of evidence of problems.
She added: “We’ve come across smashed glass in the pitches, evidence of adults urinating in view of girls’ football training, hypodermic needles laid in the grass, gas canisters, drug bags – and we get people pulling up dealing drugs while we’re training children.
“We get dogs off leads running through pitches scaring children.
“The majority of dog walkers are very respectful, however, there is a number of them who are not and I can’t remember a time when at least one coach or parent hasn’t complained about dog poo on the pitch.”
Ms Rush also pointed to other fences erected at other junior football clubs in the town.
She added: “I am prepared to work with the council and the public to find something which will serve us all – but the safety of the children has to come first and foremost in my eyes.
“It’s important to stress we’ve been working with the council on these issues for the past six years and nothing has changed in that time.
“That’s the frustration from the parents – I’m coming back to them all the time saying we’re working with the council and trying to work something out but, actually, nothing is happening other than a few extra patrols.
“Something needs to be done.”
A meeting to discuss alternative proposals for the field will be held next week.
Mr Preston said everyone had a right to safely enjoy Mill Hill fields.
The mayor added: “Locals love walking there and there and Cleveland Juniors FC do fantastic work on the fields with kids from all over town.
“After some anti-social behaviour, and a bit of tension, we got together with residents and Cleveland Juniors to find a way forward where the club gets the security it needs, and residents continue to enjoy unrestricted access.
“I’m really hopeful that we can achieve this.”
A spokesman for Middlesbrough Council added: “A positive meeting with representatives of the community and the football club was held earlier this week.
“While there are currently no firm proposals, a number of ideas have been discussed which may alleviate the issues of concern.
“These will be looked into further and we look forward to continuing the discussions around Mill Hill playing field with the football club and wider community.”
And MP Andy McDonald, MP for Middlesbrough, gave his thoughts.
He said: “I am wholly against the construction of a fence closing off access to Mill Hill playing field.
“It is a public space which has been enjoyed by families for decades.
“The reported anti social behaviour of some people cannot lead to others being punished.
“That field is for everyone to use for different purposes, not just for one group or sport.
“I will happily work with the football club to try and address their concerns but I want to put it beyond doubt that I will stand shoulder to shoulder with residents in opposing this plan.
“If residents want to get in touch with me then please email me at Andy.firstname.lastname@example.org.”
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