The first steps of a plan to secure FA-approved grounds for a Bexhill football club have gained the go ahead from council leaders.
On Monday (November 4), Rother District Council cabinet members agreed to move ahead with plans to lease part of Little Common Recreation Ground to Little Common Football Club as part of an eight-year rental agreement.
lf approved after a public consultation, it would be the first step in creating a pitch which meets ground grading standards set by the FA, allowing the club to play league games at home in Bexhill for the first time in three seasons.
If objections are raised during the consultation, the matter will come back to the council’s cabinet for further debate.
The plans were welcomed by ward councillor (and Bexhill mayor) Kathy Harmer, who said: “I do think it is a good idea to bring the team back to their hometown and I think we need to look to the youth of our ward and return some civic pride.
“I understand the [Little Common] pavilion is underused and I think could, going forward, maybe help with other projects in the local community. I think it is a good thing to do.”
In order to comply with the FA’s standards for its league, the Little Common pitch would need to be fenced off throughout the season and have a larger spectator stand than is there now. The club would need to gain planning permission for these works as part of a separate application process.
While the club intends to keep the pitch accessible to the public when not in use, some councillors raised concerns about the impact of fencing on the surrounding area.
They included Cllr Deidre Earl-Williams (Ind, Bexhill Collington), who said: “It’s a shame because that does give a rather enclosed feel.
“It is a very, very well used area. I’m supportive of the football club and it think it is good they can come back but it just looks a little bit intimidating.”
Similar concerns had also been raised by local residents, cabinet members heard.
However, Cllr Jay Brewerton, whose cabinet portfolio includes sport and leisure, said she supported the plan and was confident a solution could be found.
She said: “As portfolio holder for sports and leisure I just want to say welcome back to Little Common and I hope this goes ahead.
“I have been listening to the concerns of the residents and I think we can actually do something to ensure people’s concerns – in terms of safety and other things – are actually dealt with.
“Welcomed back, hopefully football is coming home.”
Cllr Brewerton also said the council should consider further upgrades at a future date.
For the last three seasons The Commoners have played home games at The Oval in Eastbourne as it is the only local venue with the capacity to host the team.
However, the council says, this arrangement is no longer viable and will not continue after the 2019/20 season.
The club currently runs three senior teams and fourteen youth teams at Little Common Recreation Ground, providing training and matches for more than 250 people each week.
As a result, Rother District Council anticipates it will see a loss of income – approximately £3,000 each year – from pitch fees. However, it also expects to make a saving of £2,500 per annum as a result of no longer having to maintain the football pitch.
The club will also be charged £500 per year as part of the eight-year lease agreement.
Along with Sidley United and Bexhill United, Little Common have also expressed an interest in playing at the now disused Gullivers ground in Sidley – if it is redeveloped for football.