Grassroots football club set to lose home as lease runs out on Barkingside pitches

A popular grassroots Redbridge football club based at Oakfield Playing Fields may have to find a new home to make space for a West Ham training ground.

More than 30 youth and adult teams are associated with Bealonians Football Club, which has been a tenant on part of the council-owned fields since 2004.

The club’s lease to occupy the Barkingside pitches and Jack Cater Pavilion is now running out after negotiations to occupy the pitches on a long-term basis reached a dead end 18 months ago.

According to campaign group Save Oakfield Society (SOS), Redbridge Council is in negotiations that could see part of the field used as West Ham’s training grounds.

Neither the council nor West Ham have denied that they are in negotiations, with the football club only responding that the matter is “confidential”.

Chris Nutt, secretary of SOS, said other clubs using the fields, including cricket clubs and the Parkonians football and cricket clubs, are now struggling to obtain funding because they do not have a lease beyond 2024.

He added: “You’ve got this club of umpteen members providing excellent sports facilities – at no cost to the council at all.

“You need a ten year lease to get grants and loans from sports bodies and national bodies.

“We’ve been within a few strokes of a pen to agreeing to a long-term lease until 2050 for the past eighteen months. What is happening? That’s all we’re asking.”

Oakfield Playing Fields, which is on greenbelt land, survived a battle with Redbridge Council in 2017, after it was earmarked for a 850-home development.

SOS say they successfully appealed to the planning inspector to have the site removed from the local plan due to its important role as a sporting facility for the community.

At the full council meeting on January 20, local resident Tom Barton and Conservative deputy leader Howard Berlin, who plays cricket on the grounds, both asked Redbridge’s leadership whether the grounds could be preserved for future generations by giving them Fields in Trust status.

Labour deputy leader Kam Rai promised the grounds will continue to be used as for “leisure and sporting facilities” but said Fields in Trust status would add “bureaucracy”.

Negotiations over new leases for the clubs are “commercially sensitive,” he added.

When Cllr Berlin pressed the Labour leadership on the issue, council leader Jas Athwal said fears over losing Oakfield were “conspiracy theories” and “spurious nonsense”.

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter