We have been advised that official negotiations are being held between Redbridge Council and representatives of Old Parkonians (Oakfields' tenants) regarding relocation of the club to an alternative site. Emails from Redbridge Council show that a series of meetings have previously been held in secret despite the huge local community campaign supported by residents, Barkingside 21, sports clubs and governing bodies.
Both parties will claim that previous talks were focussed on leases but any discussion on leases would clearly be pointless based on the plans to develop Oakfields which date back to 2008 at least. Housing proposals for Oakfields were produced in 2010 by Colin Buchanan, the company who did the "independent" Green Belt Review. Indeed, Old Parkonians reached out to residents in 2013 when they were unable to renegotiate their leases.
While it is understandable that Old Parkonians would wish to consider their options there seems to be absolutely no benefit or need to to so at this point when the plan is yet to be submitted to the inspector. If Oakfields were to be redeveloped the Council MUST provide equivalent or better facilities.
So why now? One answer is that the Council wishes to present the inspector with an "unencumbered" Oakfields i.e. soon to be vacant. Redbridge Sports Centre gave up leaseholds on pitches in exchange for freehold on the rest of their site and construction of the Jean Brown Centre. Frenford have agreed a relocation to the Drive in 2008 which included the development of a £6.4m centre. That just leaves Old Parkonians and the Council would love to present an agreed relocation proposal to tidy things up. We believe that Old Parkonians have worked this out and are trying to use it to their own benefit.
So, why should you care, aside from the objections we have made previously? Firstly this is a community asset. It does not belong to the politicians, the Council, Old Parkonians, Frenford or Redbridge Sports Centre. It belongs to the community; past, present and future. Secondly, the tenants are essentially social tenants paying a rate subsidised by the rest of us in exchange for safeguarding and maintaining a place of sporting excellence for the community. This has worked brilliantly for the mutual benefit of all for many years and we wish it to continue.
Oakfields is public land, an important local green space, part of the Green Belt, protected by Crown covenants, a community asset. Old Parkonians is historically associated with Ilford County High School - the local selective boys grammar school. Anyone can join Old Parkonians but only ICHS old boys can vote in their elections. That is not democratic. It would be unfair to single out Old Parkonians but it is not unfair to ask whether a private club, where your ability to vote is based on how you did in the 11 plus, should benefit from a public subsidised lease and then be able to treat that lease as its own property to be bartered.
The community have spoke clearly for years on this issue. It is truly disappointing and a reflection of our society that a handful of individuals from Council and Club are now pimping our playing fields for their own ends.