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Dispute leaves Frome showfield funding under threat

Frome Showfield.

Frome Showfield.

THERE is disagreement as to what should happen at the Old Showfield ground in Frome – putting a funding pot of £40,000 at risk. 

The funding and the lease  of the land were handed over to Frome Town Council from Mendip District Council as a result of the Frome Medical Practice development but has led to a disagreement between interested parties about the future of the land and what should be done with it.

The Frome Showfield ground, a 22-acre site incorporating the cricket club, Frome Collegians’ football pitch, a children’s play area and numerous well-used paths, is one of the town’s four major open spaces, and serves as a green lung for the whole of Stonebridge, Berkley Road and the St John’s areas of town.

It is highly valued as an open space while being in severe need of enhancement, meaning the agreement to transfer this land to Frome Town Council is a positive step forwards in making improvements to the site. The town council had asked local people what they want and thought work on the site would start shortly.

However, it has emerged that there is something of an impasse between the interested parties on the land and unless a resolution is reached swiftly, the funds made available to improve the land in 2011 will disappear.

An objection to the transfer of the leasehold has been made by the land owners, Frome and District Agricultural Society, because they do not approve of an application to register  the land as a Village Green submitted by Frome Recreation and Open Ground Supporters (FROGS). This is because a Village Green designation would mean that in the future the Showfield  could not be built on; something the land owners are unhappy with because it would reduce its value.

To make things more complicated FROGS is the adopted charity of Dickon Moore, the Mayor of Frome, and therefore the landowners have concerns that Frome Town Council owning the leasehold on the land throws up a conflict of interest. Something the town council denies.

Meanwhile, the district council has decided that they will not transfer the land unless FROGS withdraws its application because they fear a legal challenge by the Agricultural Society.

If the land was granted a village green status then the recreational use of the land would be secured for generations to come, but it limits what could be done with the site and certainly restricts future built development opportunities. Three years after the application was submitted, it has yet to be considered by the county council.

And so, nothing can be done with the site and none of the improvements can be made. And the risk is that the £40,000 of funding will disappear if nothing is decided soon.

A town council spokesperson said, “So what happens now? Where do we go from here? Frome Town Council wants to improve the site, for the area to become a wonderful place of recreation, and for the people of Frome to have this green lung on their doorstep. FROGS want to preserve this usage for future generations. The Agricultural Society wants to protect the monetary value of the land. District council fears a legal challenge if they transfer the lease and the county council hasn’t the resources to process the application.

“The losers in this mess are local people. All parties will meet in the coming weeks to try and thrash out a plan, each party is committed to finding a swift and positive solution and it is hoped that soon the people of Frome will get the wonderful recreation area they deserve.”