‘Monstrous’: Footballers kick out at council plans for Finsbury Leisure Centre

Footballers protest against the plans. Photograph: EC1 Voices

Footballers at an Islington leisure centre will continue to oppose the council’s controversial development plans, which could shrink the size of pitches.

Criticism continues to mount over Islington Council’s proposal to turn the Finsbury Leisure Centre site into a 20-storey tower block with further apartment buildings, and to move the popular football pitches to the rooftop of a new leisure centre.

More than 15,000 people are waiting for a council home in the borough, and the plans will provide 100 such homes to alleviate the housing crisis, the Town Hall said.

A further 100 flats will be put up for sale, and a GP practice will also be built on the new site.

The proposal and alleged lack of engagement has left residents “enraged”, prompting them to create a new campaign group called EC1 Voices to try stop the plans.

The campaign previously outlined its fears that the plans will cram too many people into “one of the densest areas” in the UK.

Footballers at Finsbury Leisure Centre have also called on the council to stop the “monstrous” multimillion-pound development.

Club organiser Gary Little from NRI United is concerned about the potential reduction of football pitches and the impact on health of those missing out, including young people.

“The pitches are going to be very small,” he said. “We have estimated they’re going to be about 40-50 per cent smaller.

“While they put these monstrous tower blocks up, it’s going to be two years before you are actually able to return there.”

He said the proposed buildings would make the area look “so built-up”.

“Give it to 20 to 30 years and you’re going to have very dilapidated buildings and people are not going to want to live in that area,” he claimed.

The club, just one of many that calls the leisure centre home for community-spirited games, often recruits new players from people and dog-walkers who pass by.

Residents can often be seen walking and jogging around the pitches for a “bit of exercise”, he said.

“When you stick the pitches six floors up, that’s no longer going to happen,” he lamented.

“I feel very sorry for the residents already living in the area. The architecture is going to be utilitarian, to put it mildly.”

He said he understands the “housing problems” facing the council, but is “frustrated” by its approach to engagement and the re-submission of the proposals.

“It seems to be the modus operandi of local councils – they keep submitting until they get what they want,” he said.

Islington Council’s deputy leader and executive member for finance, planning and performance, Cllr Diarmaid Ward, said the leisure centre is “well past its best” and doing nothing “is not an option”.

“The current proposals have been informed by feedback from engagement exercises in 2017 and 2022 and our plans include four new rooftop football pitches, built to the Football Association’s guidelines for five- or six-a-side football,” he explained.

“They will be high quality and part of a new first-class leisure centre with much better changing rooms, equipment and sports facilities that will benefit everyone who uses the centre.”

Cllr Ward said the council is in talks with current users of the facility to “try to address their concerns”.

He added: “Hundreds of people had their say on the plans – both in support and to raise concerns – through the recent engagement exercise.

“We’re committed to working with the community to strike the right balance and are now reviewing all the feedback received, before presenting our updated proposals in late spring.”

Footballers and residents of all ages got together on Wednesday for a flash mob on the pitches organised by EC1 Voices, with young players pleading with the council not to “kill football”.