TOWN councillor and former Lyme Regis footballer Derek Hallett is calling on the town council to reconsider the Stawberry Field being used for sport.
Cllr Hallettt claims that Lyme Regis has the poorest sporting facilities of any town in Dorset and the prolonged wet period is causing severe difficulties for the local football club. His plea comes in the wake of Lyme Regis Football Club not having been able to play on their Davey Fort pitch for 18 weeks due to the wet weather.
The Strawberry Field was acquired by Lyme Regis Town Council in the early 2000s to provide a new home for Lyme Regis Football Club and a floodlit multi-use games area for the twon. But the £1.2 million project was abandoned after strong opposition from residents across the valley in Harcombe and Rocombe and West Dorset District Council planning officers.
At the time Lyme Regis Football Club was one of the most successful clubs in Dorset, running four senior sides, a ladies’ team and a thriving youth section. The project had the full backing of Dorset Football Association with significantt funding from the Football Fundation.
The project would have provided two full-size pitches and a junior pitch for the football club, a clubhouse with extensive changing and social facilities, and a multi-use games area which woud have incuded tennis courts with floodlights. Opponents of the scheme were particularly concerned about light pollution from the floodlights in an area of outstanding beauty, but as land owners Lyme Regis Town Coucil insisted that they be kept in the scheme to enable evening bookings throughout the year to make the project financially viable.
Lyme’s two district councillors at the time were Owen Lovell and Ken Meech, who were chairman and vice-chairman of the planning committee, but were barred from deliberating on the scheme because they were also members of the town council. So effectively, the town’s two most influential councillors were unable to infuence the biggest sporting development in the town’s history.
As chairman of the football club at the time, I led the fundraising campaign which suceeded in raising the £45,000 necessary to commission the various reports necessary for the planning application. But we met such severe opposition not only from the people across the valley, who were entitled to their opinion, but from the planning officers who flatly refused to meet the club to discuss the project.
Since then the club has accepted that it is unlikely ever to move from the Davey Fort and under the astute chairmanship of Howard Larcombe members have made significant improvement to the changing accommodation and social facilities at the Davey Fort including new changing rooms, and are now one-third of the way through a development programme to improve facilities futher. The club secured a £100,000 grant from Lyme Regis Town Council on the agreement the club match-funded the project to the tune of £25,000 a year. The club suceeded in doing this last year which enabled them to build a modern kitchen which will allow the club to host more lucrative social activities.
Stage two of the project is the buiding of covered areas for spectators to watch games. Lyme have the best support of any club in its standard of football and a start is due to me made on the building work in June. To date the club has raised £7,000 towards the second trance of £12,500 match-funding but the lack of home games due to matches being called off because the Davey Fort is continually flooded is having a big effect on their ability to raise another £5,000 before June. With all games washed out over the Easter period, there is even fears that no further football may be played at the Davey Fort this season.
Club officials have been in discussions with the town council over the possibility of using the third tranch of their grant for a significant drainage scheme at the Davey Fort rather than spending the money on tarmacing the car park and putting up better fencing around the ground, as was intended.
Said Mr Larcombe: “The council understand our position and are being very helpful. Better drainage for the Davey Fort is absolutely essential for the future of Lyme Regis Football Club.
“We cannot go every year losing 18 Saturdays with little or no money coming in.”
Cllr Hallett accepts that it may not be possible to replicate the ambitious plan darwn up for the Starwberryb Field in the early 2000s and appreciates a similar scheme would now probaby be financially out of the question. But he thinks the council should look at the possibility on putting in a G3/4 artificial surface at the Strawberry Field which would give the football club an alternative playing surface when the weather was bad.
He told LymeOnline Sport: “We don’t know whether it possible but we should be looking at this immediately, not just to protect the football club but also to get tennis courts, a promise made to the people of Lyme Regis when the courts at Woodmead Halls were done away to make way for the leisure centre in the 1980s. “I keep banging on about this at every possible opportunity in council but have receved little support to date.But now the situation at the football cub is public, I hope thay will be more willing to look at this more seriously. “The least we should be doing is to see whether any funding is available and what chance we would have in getting any money.”
* Cllr Hallett was a playing member of Lyme Regis FC in the 1950s/60s and went on to play Western League Football with Chard Town, later becoming a respected referee when he retired from playing.