The future of a popular section of Tooting Bec Common hangs in the balance as locals are divided over plans to charge them for access to revamped football pitches.

Residents were split at a public meeting on the proposals for Tooting Triangle, with some demanding the pitches stay “free” in the cost of living crisis, and others happy that the changes would improve the area.

TFC Leisure Ltd won planning permission in 2020 for works on the Tooting Triangle, which currently has a 1960s football pitch, boxing club and former children’s centre.

Wandsworth Times: Tooting Triangle, Tooting Bec Common, Wandsworth. Credit: LDRSTooting Triangle, Tooting Bec Common, Wandsworth. Credit: LDRS

There was fierce objections to the plans, with a petition against the works signed by more than 7,000 people.

The works will replace the existing pitch to create new enclosed floodlit pitches that could be used as six five-a-side football pitches or one seven-a-side football pitch with three five-a-side pitches for different sports.

The council says around five per cent of the Triangle would be enclosed under the plans.

The Triangle will also get new changing rooms, showers, a café, public toilets and a play area.

The public would have to pay to access the new enclosed pitches – with exceptions for local state schools.

Exact charges have not been announced.

Wandsworth Times: Tooting Triangle, Tooting Bec Common, Wandsworth. Credit: LDRSTooting Triangle, Tooting Bec Common, Wandsworth. Credit: LDRS

Wandsworth Council’s application for consent for some of the works, as they involve common land, is being considered after an inspector from the Planning Inspectorate called for a public inquiry.

Evidence submitted to the inquiry sets out the council’s view that the “improved” facilities would address “insufficient opportunity” to take part in sports in Wandsworth.

TFC Leisure’s bid to lease the site for 25 years to manage the facilities depends on consent being granted.

Documents say the “proposed development of the facilities represents the most cost effective, and in current circumstances only, way of providing much needed improved facilities for people of all ages and abilities to have the opportunity to actively participate in sport and physical exercise in a safe and secure environment that meets 21st century expectations”.

But many locals slammed the plans at a heated evening session of the inquiry on Monday night.

Mum-of-two Sara Yates said locals needed free access as the cost of living rises.

She said: “It’s really important where we don’t really want to be putting up barriers, we want to be breaking them down, and this whole development is about putting up barriers and that’s why I’m strongly against it.”

Michael Langdon, who has lived next to the park since 1985, said the Triangle was often used “as an escape after a day’s work and a meeting place for friends and family – if this development was to go ahead this tranquillity will be ruined”.

He added: “Apart from the personal and professional reasons for opposing this development, I oppose as a matter of principle the enclosure and privatisation of common land.”

Others raised concerns about potential parking issues from the proposals and the “precedent” the plans could set.

But some locals praised the plans for addressing a “lack” of local sports facilities on land that has already been built on. 

Andrew Fuller said: “There’s so much land around, this particular development needs to be done.”

Local coach Richard Jones said there was a “chronic lack of sports facilities for our kids in the local area – obviously we need to make sure that it remains accessible, that the pricing remains very reasonable, that the local schools have very good access to it”.

Mum-of-three Victoria Murray said: “I just think if we have a facility that’s close to home that people can get to then that would be incredible.”

She said a football pitch was “not much to ask for”.

Other residents said those for and against the plans agreed the facilities needed “reasonable” changes.

Ian Edwards said the council should redevelop the area “as a normal programme of redevelopment and maintenance would lead to”.

A spokesperson for Wandsworth Council said: “To deliver improvements at the Triangle site planning consent from the Government’s planning inspector is required.

"The inquiry process allows for the views of local people to be considered by the inspector before a decision is made.”

A spokesperson for TFC Leisure said: “Many have contacted us about using the new facilities, some of which struggle to use the buildings and pitch in the state they are now.

"If we are successful with our application we would also start the process of talking and listening to local user groups (eg parents of young families, sports clubs, schools) to best deliver what they need.”

The inquiry into the Tooting Triangle plans ends on Wednesday.