SEVEN years on from the conception of their elaborate expansion plans, the sight of bulldozers and mounds of earth in a field adjacent to their present home has sparked excitement among the members of Valley End Cricket Club.
Following years of plotting their way through a planning minefield, the relevant boxes have been ticked on their proposed £1m project and work is underway to build a new pavilion and three additional pitches a mere stones-throw away from their present site.
Having paid just £140,000 for the green belt land, which is nestled next to the M3 just north of junction three, the proposed expansion, feared by residents who thought club officials were out to make a fast buck, will safeguard the future of the club.
It will also allow the continued growth of the thriving colts section, currently serving the needs of around 200 youngsters, which is in desperate need of extra pitches.
With their ground on Windlesham Road sitting on almost four acres, the additional 12-and-a-half acre site — to be protected from the motorway’s noise pollution by a huge earth bund measuring in excess of four metres high — will house two grass pitches and one artificial square.
Opposition to the plan was fierce in the early stages, but most of the vehement protesters, who thought the expansion was just not cricket, relented once they appreciated that actually, that is exactly what it was.
Life club member and project manager Adrian Gale is delighted that work has finally started, six years after purchase, and insists the club had no option but to buy the extra land, with the club’s future at stake.
“Even before 2000 it was fairly obvious we were going to run out of space,” said Gale. “So we started looking for pitches in the area and after we missed out on two other bits of land this piece came on the market at the end of 2000 and we decided we would buy it.
“Instead of putting in a feeble offer, just because that’s what we could afford, we decided we would bid for it and secure it as we were never going to get anywhere closer.”
Paying for it was the issue but sponsorship deals, loans — some interest free from members — and some “fairly significant” donations saw to that.
“We had issues with the planners,” added Gale. “But we eventually got planning permission in 2006 and it took until February this year, when the work started, to clear all the planning conditions.
“We even had a full-blown archaeological survey done which took three or four months and cost around £40,000 which we didn’t have. And we’ve still got one smallish planning condition outstanding.”
That is not seen as a problem and in the autumn the sight of pitches being laid will further set the pulses racing. “The idea is that we get the earth works done this September and start laying out the pitches then,” added Gale.
“The intention is the youngest members can play on the smaller pitch from June next year and the bigger pitch by the end of next season. In 2010 there will be adult cricket on the site.”
After such a long process Gale and his colleagues can finally see the light at the end of an extremely long tunnel and, standing on the site at its highest point, he said: “It’s exciting, but at the same time it’s certainly been challenging enough.
“In the depths of planning revisions two and three I think we were all fairly jaded but people have been galvanised by the fact you can actually see it now.
“When you come over here it just looks like a field. When you stand at the top here (near the motorway), firstly, you realise it’s a very big field and secondly, that it’s going to be a great place to play cricket.
“At the back of the site a nature reserve is going to be planted up and there’s also an amphibian habitat where we will be making a sort of bog pond to encourage the wildlife.
“The whole project is a huge leap forward and is bringing cricket at Valley End into the 21st century. It’s a big undertaking for a little club.”
The existing square at Valley End will still be used but given a rest in five years time as it is becoming worn out .
And there will be a transition period, with the first and second teams not scheduled to use the main (big) pitch over the road for another three years.
Committee member and press officer Donald Kingsnorth added: “We have four Saturday teams, three on Sunday, a midweek and youths right through from under-9s to under-15s as well as an under-17 side.
“We have around 200 colts and we currently have locals schools helping us with pitches because we have to use every inch of space.
“The new development will give us three squares and we will fill that with cricketers of all ages very easily. It’s very much a community project.
“The government put all this emphasis on creating sporting opportunity for people at schools. You see time and again state schools losing facilities.
“So the clubs are very much where the facilities reside nowadays and we are very much a sport for all and opportunity for all club.