Locking up our football pitches is a “disgrace”, says Gospel Oak mum

Football pitches in Gospel Oak that have been free for more than 35 years could be locked for up to 21 hours a day after controversial new plans for their management were approved.

The pitches on Malden Road in Gospel Oak have been in the hands of Camden Council for decades but the day to day running is being passed on to the Queen’s Crescent Community Centre, although the cost of maintenance will still lie with the council.

The change will not simply mean a change of management – it will also mean that one pitch will probably be locked out for much of the day so that booked and paid- for sessions can take place.

Sarah Robins lives in Gospel Oak with four children who use the pitches all the time, and she described the plans as an “absolute disgrace.”

She said: “We have got the kids six weeks’ holidays coming up and all day and all evening they aren’t going to have anything to do. The pitches are there for local children but they aren’t going to benefit at all.

“It will end up like the pitch near the Winch at Swiss Cottage where no-one can organise a game and children are locked out for the entire day.”

There are also worries about what will happen in emergency situations as the pitch is the landing site for the air ambulance.

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She added: “They say they’ll give the ambulance a key but what happens in a life or death situation if they can’t find the key or it takes too long to open the door?”

Petra Dando, who campaigned with other residents 12 years ago to get the pitches renovated, said: “We campaigned very hard to get these pitches back into to use so that the kids could use them and now they are going to be practically privatised.

“Gospel Oak has very individual needs – the young people who use those pitches have taken ownership of them. They are well looked after and well used all day and evening. Often the kids who are kicking a ball about there in the evening have nowhere else to go.”

Ms Dando added that the council should have sat down with local youth and community organisers “over a cup of tea” to talk through the strategy, arguing the short notice made the proposed changes seem “underhand”.

A Camden Council spokeswoman said: “We have run a consultation process in which residents have been able to express their views.

‘‘While we understand some peoples’ concerns, we believe that this scheme is an improvement on the existing provision which will still allow residents and young people to enjoy the football pitches. We will be conducting a review of this arrangement in September to make sure it meets everyone’s needs.”