Allotment holders in Huddersfield who are fighting to stop their plots being bulldozed have been backed in their campaign by Sport England.
Officials with the government quango, which promotes grassroots sport, have said they are willing to investigate “better solutions” that would safeguard the allotments for the future.
Now campaigners are hoping that the intervention could persuade Kirklees Council to look again at a proposed £10m 420-place primary school at Clare Hill playing fields behind Highfields Community Centre, which was granted outline planning permission in July.
The land, off Cambridge Road, is owned by Greenhead College, which was to sell it to the council with a view to the school opening by September 2018.
The council says allotment land is needed for a pitch to replace one that will carry the footprint of the proposed school. The development involves digging up a large area occupied by allotments on Cemetery Road and turfing dozens of tenants off their plots. Some have worked the land for decades.
It was thought Greenhead College would allow Kirklees Council to open up its pitches for community use as part of the deal but the college refused, saying it feared they would be “churned up” by constant use.
When campaigner Debby Fulgoni raised the issue with Kirklees Council she was told Sport England was to blame for the potential loss of the allotments.
But it has since emerged that the allotment site was suggested to Sport England by the council because it adjoined the Greenhead College playing field and the college was promising to open that under-utilised site for community use too. Sport England backed the suggestion on that basis.
However since the offer was first made Greenhead College has declined to sell its site to the council and to allow its playing field to be opened up.
Now, rather than be at loggerheads, Sport England says it would be prepared to consider proposals for the playing field to be replaced elsewhere in Huddersfield so that the allotments are no longer affected.
An official wrote: “We would have always been happy to consider such a solution, but it was never on the table. However given how things have panned out at this site it is likely that there might be better solutions out there.”
Mrs Fulgoni said: “That field can be replaced anywhere in the Huddersfield area. Surely there is somewhere in Huddersfield where it should be. Sport England want it to be a community pitch. It would not be one if it is where it is planned now.
“It’s only ten years since 20 allotment spaces were taken and now people are being asked to move again.
“It’s not just about fruit and veg. They have built whole environments up there.”
In just two weeks the Friends of Cemetery Road Allotments have notched up more than 1,300 signatures on a petition to stop their plots being flattened.
Now they are urging even more supporters to sign up and to take the petition to more than 2,000 names so that it has to be recognised by Kirklees Council.
Frustratingly a request by campaigners to address today’s (Wed) full council meeting was refused as the Clare Hill issue is a live planning application. However they have vowed to fight on.
To sign the petition visit: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-cemetery-road-allotments-huddersfield