The skate park in Saffron Walden is a fantastic, nationally acclaimed facility that plugs a real gap for youth activities. It is one of the ‘modern-jewels’ in the town’s crown and residents are quite rightly proud of it. But it has recently put itself in the middle of a political and community battle over housing that seems to be causing division.
Kier Homes has been co-opting local skateboard enthusiasts to help push their 300 house development on farmland off Thaxted Rd in Saffron Walden. The skate park management committee had believed that Kier were going to build them a £1 million extension to the nationally acclaimed and well supported park. But it seems that all may not be quite what they believed.
We understand that Kier are now not proposing to build the skate park extension, only the supporting concrete facilities buildings underneath it, such as the toilets and café. Considering that similar facilities exist next-door in the Butler Leisure Centre, it would seem a more cost effective option to just grant public access to those rather than waste money by building new if there is to be no funding for a skate park extension.
With regard to the expansion of the skate park, it seems that others are not happy with the proposed plans to double it in size. The Saffron Walden Town Council, who already foots the bill for operating the existing park, says that the town doesn’t need a bigger park and that it isn’t interested in maintaining an expanded bit of the skate park. They said that if the Kier houses were granted (which they oppose) that they’d want any section-106 infrastructure investment allocated to other projects. It seems that by trying to grab all of the leisure infrastructure investment from Kier, the skate park management committee could actually lose the existing the facility they already have.
Those who live nearby also seem to have concerns and there have been a number of letters in the local papers. Here is one recently written in the Walden Local (page 10) by someone unconnected to WeAreResidents.org:
It beggars belief that these people are completely ignoring the genuine concerns of those living nearby. If people were to take the time to read everything the committee have put on paper regarding the hub and extension they will see quite clearly that the issue of noise nuisance and quality of life to neighbours is of no importance to them. Their correspondence focuses on what they want and the rest of us can take a hike! We just get noise, noise, noise. I implore UDC planners – no skate park extension please!
No one wants to see the existing skate park fail because it is an excellent facility that fills a youth gap. By hitching their wagon to a huge and highly unpopular housing development, the park has put itself in the line of fire, which is a shame. But at least the issue has now raised the broader discussion as to which recreation and sports activities and groups should benefit from any infrastructure investment that comes with new housing.
This story is likely to hot up again soon as Kier submit their soon-to-be-expected full development application.