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Peebles FC fight for new 3G facilities to take town "out of the Stone Age"

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Frustrated with the lack of all-weather football facilities in their town, Peebles FC are pushing the powers that be to drive forward plans to construct a new 3G pitch facility at Victoria Park.
 
A controversial planning application which has split local opinion has been submitted to Scottish Borders Council seeking permission to build a synthetic sports pitch with changing facilities, floodlights and car parking on the greenfield site. 
 
The debate in Peebles is just the latest battle in a long-standing struggle replicated all across Scotland for several years. Compared to similar-sized nations with similar climates, especially in Scandinavia, Scotland has a severe lack of high-quality all-weather outdoor and indoor football facilities for community use in winter. 
 
According to Peebles FC, the need for such a facility is urgent. Last weekend, all youth football matches in the town were cancelled for the third week running after every single grass pitch (alongside Peebles' only synthetic surface) was deemed unplayable due to frost and flooding.
 
The club argues that a 3G surface at Victoria Park would be transformational for sport in the town, enabling competitive matches to be played on a consistent, safe and quality surface throughout the Scottish winter, come rain or shine.
 
They say that 350 registers players, over 70 coaches and volunteers, 13 separate age groups, eight 11-a-side teams and four 7-a-side teams will benefit. Through social media, officials have step up efforts to rally the troops to express their support for this "necessity".
 
However, not everyone in Peebles agrees. A debate is raging locally with opponents of the plans stepping up their fight against the proposals. The Save Victoria Park campaign group's peition calling on Scottish Borders Council to block the development has amassed almost 1,700 signatures in a matter of weeks.
 
In response, supporters of the idea have recently arranged their own peition on change.org, demanding that "if there is no other viable site", the local authority press ahead with the Victoria Park blueprint. James Swann, the petition's originator, said: "As everyone is aware there is a debate regarding a 3G pitch being built at Victoria Park. There has been a petition for those against this scenario. This gives the people in the community who are for a 3G pitch the opportunity to have their opinion heard. 
 
"This petition also, however, extends to the people against the 3G pitch at Victoria Park.  If there is no other viable site, then as a last resort would you rather have a 3G pitch at the aforementioned site or none at all?"
 
Swann's counter-petition, at the time of writing, has secured over 650 signatures in just six days. There is clearly significant and passionate feeling in Peebles on both sides of the debate. Signatory David Davidson said: "Really important for the development of potential talent in Peebles. All for it."
 
Fellow supporter and local player Cameron Jarvie made a passionate plea for councillors and citizens to throw their weight behind the plans: "I'm sick of playing in puddles or games getting cancelled because of poor weather. Also, Peebles loses a lot of young talent because of this lack of decent facilities, I have suffered this first hand throughout my time in Peebles and my team (under 19s) now face folding for the second time in two years, because no one wants to play or train in horrible conditions like what we have.
 
"It's not just my year that have faced losing their players. Each and every year has had this happen and as a club we aren't progressing. However, this 3G gives us the chance to equal the facilities of that in Edinburgh and maybe a hope of not losing young talent. Getting this facility would mean a step in the right direction.
 
He added: "Those who oppose this can't see the massive benefits of having this facility and what it would mean to the hundreds of kids and adults who are part of the set up in Peebles. Peebles has to keep up with modern times and not stay in the Stone Age of games getting cancelled in winter."
 
Opponents, however, believe that other sites should be explored and the natural heritage of Victoria Park preserved for future generations and not, as they see it, blighted by an intrusive development.
 
They have also called in legal experts with experience of contesting attempts to build on normally protected greenfield sites. Save Victoria Park's Frances Mordaunt said: "If Scottish Borders Council won't stop this development voluntarily, we will have to take a court action."
 
The matter is complicated by the fact that the overwhelming majority of the land which now makes up Victoria Park was bequeathed to the town of Peebles by Sir John Adam Hay in 1888 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, allegedly on the condition that the land should be held in the common good and never been built upon. It is currently unclear whether the land on which developers wish to construct the 3G facility is similarly protected.
 
Graeme Murray of Peebles Civic Society, which opposes the proposals, said: "There are alternatives sites for a 3G pitch, we just hope Scottish Borders Council starts listening to the people of Peebles."
 
In Peebles, the big debate continues to rage and, for both sides, the fight goes on. 

David Kelly | YFS South East Region Journalist
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