A major revamp of playing fields at the Brent Cross Cricklewood regeneration site has been approved despite neighbours’ fears over noise, pollution and reduced access.
The overhaul of Clitterhouse Playing Fields is set to create new football and hockey pitches, cycle paths, landscaping, tree planting, and a pavilion building containing a cafe, public toilets and changing rooms.
There are also plans to improve drainage at the site, partly by removing concrete culverting from Clitterhouse Stream and naturalising its course.
Town hall planning chiefs said the scheme would bring “significant benefits”. But consultations on the plans drew 154 objections and only 30 letters of support. Concerns included the reduction in publicly accessible green space, the environmental impact of artificial pitches, and the “commercialisation” of public space through the use of ‘pay-to-play’ sports facilities.
Before the proposals were presented to the council’s strategic planning committee on Wednesday (4th), residents staged a protest outside Hendon Town Hall holding signs saying “green, not greed”, “no to toxic soil” and “park for our kids, not profit for developers”.
Speaking during the meeting, local resident Luisa Vallejo said the proposals would “crush” the “beating heart of our community”. She said the scheme would disproportionately restrict freedom of use and access and constitute an overdevelopment because of the large number of activities, fences, noise barriers and floodlights.
Luisa claimed there would not be enough green space for the residents of the 6,700 new homes on the planned regeneration scheme, adding that neighbours would be affected by noise, light pollution and “parking chaos”.
Councillors Anne Clarke, Alan Schneiderman and Giulia Innocenti also raised concerns over the proposals. They called for measures to prevent the soil and waterways from being polluted by microplastics from the sports pitches and for alternatives to 3G artificial surfaces to be used if they become available.
Cllr Clarke raised concerns over noise pollution and the impact of coach pick-up and drop-offs on local traffic and parking, and called for more hours of free access to the sports facilities.
Speaking in support, Dan Hawkins, executive headteacher at Childs Hill and Claremont primary schools, said the scheme would provide facilities for children in an area where many families live in poverty.
He added that he was pleased to see young children had been included in the plans, that there would be a range of sports, and that the landscaping would provide a “natural feel” for people who wanted to walk their dog and explore the park.
Morwenna Hall, a partner at developer Related Argent, said the proposals would create a “truly welcoming, safe, accessible and fun place with something for everyone, no matter what their background”.
She added that more than three-quarters of the playing fields would be “areas of planting and open space”. Income from the pay-to-play sports facilities would be used to maintain the fields, she said, and this would be overseen by a board that would include council and community representatives.
Under questioning from councillors, Morwenna said 1,000 free hours of activity for residents had been proposed by the developer, adding that there would be further opportunities for those on low incomes.
When the committee discussed the plans, Conservative councillor Richard Cornelius pointed out that a different set of proposals to revamp the playing fields had been approved in 2015.
He said the choice was between the already-consented scheme and the current plans, which would provide more benefits.
The committee agreed to add conditions and informatives to the plans to address the concerns raised by residents and councillors. These included assurances over the 1,000 hours of free access and the establishment of the board to oversee the park, measures to prevent microplastics pollution, and details of the management of minibus pick-ups and drop-offs.
After the conditions were added, the committee voted unanimously to approve the proposals. Because of an objection from Sport England, the plans will be referred to the secretary of state, who has the power to call in or refuse the application.