Posted: Fri 22nd Mar 2024

Swansea Council Amended Lease to Allow Football Club’s Fence, Despite Public Access Clause

news.wales / newyddion.cymru

A LEASE which was amended by Swansea Council to allow a football club to erect fencing around playing fields said public access to the land had to be maintained at all times, it has emerged.
The perimeter fence upset people who used the green space in Waunarwlydd for recreation but the council said it had allowed it because leaseholder – Waunarlwydd Galaxy community football club – was concerned about misuse of the land and the impact it would have on the club’s future funding applications.
The issue was debated at a meeting of full council in January last year following a petition signed by more than 500 fence objectors.
At the meeting, councillors were given an overview of the award of the lease in 2021, the request by the club to put up the fence, the council’s handling of the request, and the availability of alternative open space in the area.
Cllr Robert Francis-Davies, cabinet member for investment, regeneration and tourism, said the granting of the lease “was perfectly lawful, as was the erection of the fence as the leaseholder sought the necessary permissions under the terms of the lease”.
But there was no mention of a clause in the lease, which the Local Democracy Reporting Service has been made aware of, which said: “Allow the general public to have access to the open land at all times.”
The council has now confirmed this clause was in the lease.
In a statement setting out its position, the authority said this week: “The leaseholders came to us seeking permission to amend the lease and fence-off land.
“Among their concerns was damage and misuse of the field by local residents – as we’ve seen at a number of other locations across Swansea.
“The leaseholders were able to evidence that damage, and the impact it would have had on future funding applications.
“Following discussions locally, we agreed in good faith that the lease could be varied which allowed fencing off the land to take place.”
In the intervening months, campaigners trying to restore public access raised thousands of pounds for legal representation, and mediation between them and the council took place last autumn.
While the fence remains in place, public access was reinstated at various points three months ago, although there is separate fencing around one of the two pitches used by the football club.
The council’s statement also said a landmark legal ruling had been made after its decision to allow the fencing which, although not directly relating to Swansea or the council, meant there was a viable claim for “a public trust” over the land in Waunarlwydd.
There is support locally for the football club, which has hundreds of adult and junior players. In 2021, supporters contributed £12,000 towards the fencing in 56 days as part of a crowdfunding campaign.
Lee Seager, manager of the Grill House restaurant, which is a couple of hundred yards from the playing fields, said he could see both sides of the issue.
He said he backed the work of the football club and that the Grill House had contributed money towards kit for the junior teams.
“I kind of understand why the fencing was put up,” said Mr Seager. “There were problems down there – motorbikes, things getting set alight. But I understand why people were annoyed, as that’s the land their kids used and where they walked their dogs. It’s a difficult one.
“If there’s access now, and a football pitch where kids can feel safe, that’s perhaps the best of both worlds.”
Waunarlwydd Playing Fields Action Group, which has campaigned for full public access to the land, has always said it did not object to the football club operating there. It has also disputed that anti-social behaviour by residents has taken place.
It has, though, submitted a bid for the field to be granted village green status.
A spokeswoman for the group said it wanted to secure the field as the “recreational space it was intended to be”.
A spokesman for Waunarlwydd Galaxy said it had always abided to the terms of the lease and sought consent for changes as permitted by the terms.
“We will continue to carrying on the vital and valued work with the hundreds of children and adults in our community, ensuring they can play football in a safe and inclusive environment,” he said.
“We would like to thank the overwhelming majority of our community who continue to support our work both on and off the field.” ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​



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