Legal threats have prompted Redbridge Council to U-turn on plans that would have seen a grassroots football club evicted to make space for a new West Ham training ground.
In October last year, the council decided to negotiate with the Premier League club to lease a large section of Oakfield Playing Fields, which is currently occupied by Bealonians Football Club (FC).
However, the council faced robust opposition from the club – which has used the site since 2004 – as well as its 600 players, including several youth teams.
Following the decision, Bealonians FC is understood to have threatened the council with legal action, resulting in the U-turn last month.
In a letter seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the council’s chief legal officer told the Save Oakfield Society it “intends to recommence the process afresh”.
Facing questions about Redbridge Council’s “intentions” from campaigners last night at a council meeting, leader Jas Athwal said he is now waiting for “legal advice”.
He added: “When we have that we will give it the due respect and scrutiny going forward, certainly once we get the advice we will talk to the various users, and if we have to start the process we are again happy to do that.”
Addressing the leader, Bealonians FC trustee Nicholas Hurst said that when the club took over the fields and pavilion in 2020, council officers – including a member of the legal department – promised they would offer a permanent lease.
However, Cllr Athwal dismissed this promise as “officers making quiet decisions in smoke-filled rooms” and promised to “ensure that we have every process done correctly”.
Responding to another campaigner, the leader also suggested that if he had gone through the details with a “fine comb” himself, the controversy could have been avoided.
Redbridge Council’s decision to negotiate a lease with West Ham follows a public “marketing” exercise for the Oakfield Playing Fields site that was advertised in the Ilford Recorder for one week in May, receiving three bids.
Following this, Cllr Athwal’s cabinet approved the Premier League club as its “preferred bidder”.
However, the council has been in discussions about a lease for the site with both West Ham and Bealonians FC for at least two years.
The playing fields, which are on green belt land close to Fairlop station the Central Line, survived a battle with Redbridge Council in 2017, which hoped to designate the land for an 850-home development.
A spokesperson for the council confirmed the U-turn but did not respond when asked about the Save Oakfield Society’s threat of legal action.