Government support for football project withdrawn

FORMER Murrati footballer James Scott has been left frustrated after his plan to turn a neglected piece of public land into 3G football courts was thwarted in a last-minute u-turn by the landlord, Jersey Property Holdings.

James Scott, co-owner of JS Fives, wanted to build new 3G football pitches on the old netball courts at FB Fields Picture: ROB CURRIE
James Scott, co-owner of JS Fives, wanted to build new 3G football pitches on the old netball courts at FB Fields Picture: ROB CURRIE

The land behind the FB Fields athletics track pavilion – originally used for outdoor netball – has been sitting dormant for a number of years, despite being re-surfaced and having floodlights installed as recently as 2014. Scott believed the area would be ideal to transform into five-a-side outdoor 3G football courts and had been in advanced stages of seeking planning permission. He had set up a company to front the initiative – JS Fives – and a nine-year lease agreement with JPH was already in place, subject to permission being granted.

However, hitherto unknown restrictive covenant on the land, from when it was donated to the public in 1961, means the plans are now very unlikely to materialise.

The covenant dictates that Scott would need to obtain consent from the owners of all surrounding houses, who are the beneficiaries of the covenant, but five of the seven owners had already expressed concern to Planning over potential noise from the building and use of the new facility.

The site is now likely to remain unused for a considerable time longer and potentially fall further into disrepair.

‘I’ve been working hard behind the scenes for the last couple of years to make my idea become a reality and it was looking really positive,’ Scott explained. ‘However, I received an email last week from Jersey Property Holdings making me aware of a covenant on the land that they themselves knew nothing about until very recently.

‘To be honest if I was to say I’m very disappointed, it would be an understatement. I’m actually hugely frustrated. I truly believe the Island is in desperate need of such a facility, especially on the east of the Island.’

The present facility consists of two abandoned outdoor netball courts, floodlights, changing rooms and toilets. Other covenants on the land specify that it is used ‘to encourage sport and the spirit of sporting competition’ and ‘become a sporting recreation ground.’

Scott believed with ‘a little bit more investment, the site would be perfect’, due to already having all the appropriate amenities needed to make it a thriving sports facility once again.

‘I don’t believe the facility has been used since this work took place [in 2014], not once, which must of cost a considerable amount of public money,’ he said. ‘I don’t even think the floodlights have been switched on since they were installed over six years ago.

‘Any public sports facility on the Island that is not being used to its full potential should be addressed in my view, even if this is via a private investor. Especially in a time where everybody knows how sport, especially football as the most played sport on the Island, can massively improve a person’s physical and mental well-being.

‘JPH have now back-tracked by stating that “the public could not be party to a lease and an arrangement that it knows is in breach of existing restrictive covenants that were put in place at the time the site was gifted to the public in 1961”, but we are not being very grateful of this kind gift if it is not being used by the public themselves. If I was told about it at the very beginning, then I probably wouldn’t have pursued it as an option.’

Scott added: ‘There have been some objections by residents who are in close proximity of the site, mainly with noise concerns. But there have also been over 70 public supportive comments submitted to the online planning application, which highlights the need for such a facility.’

Endorsements for Scott’s project came from the recently-resigned assistant Economic Development minister Steve Pallett, who held political responsibility for sport in Jersey, and Jersey Football Association chief executive David Kennedy.

Pallett said: ‘It’s important that a wide range of sports facilities are provided in the Island and that we make best use of all the sports facilities with the government sports facilities portfolio. Government previously invested into this site to provide netball courts but due to netball transferring the majority of their programmes indoors, the site is now underutilised. I am fully supportive of JS Fives using the facility for five-a-side football.’

Scott continued: ‘It’s just a real shame, especially with the new Inspiring an Active Jersey government initiative led by Jersey Sport.

‘Everything was set and in place to get the facility built for this summer if it got the green light from planning. I honestly believe it could have played a vital part in helping Jersey Sport reach their target of making the public 10% more active by 2030.’

In response, JPH said: ‘A business proposal to convert an underused area of FB Fields for five-a-side football was submitted to the department. As the proposal was for a sporting activity, the proposal was supported. However, research identified that a covenant had been placed on the site when it was gifted to the public.

‘We were advised that we needed to negotiate with the seven beneficiaries of the covenant to either cancel the relevant restrictions or to obtain their consent to the proposal.

‘The planning application generated a significant number of objections and five of the seven beneficiaries of the covenant submitted objections on planning grounds. It is therefore unlikely that they would consent to cancel or amend the restrictions for the scheme to progress. Because of the level of objection to the application, [we] determined that the scheme is not suitable for the location, and government support should be withdrawn.’

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