As the new manager of Plymouth Argyle in 1972, Tony Waiters wanted the football club to have its own training facilities close to Home Park, the existing ground at Ermington being too far away. He entered discussions with Council officers and they identified an area north of Coronation Avenue opposite the zoo which was open space at the time, except for an ‘indifferent cricket pitch’ and a footpath to Pounds Park.
The plan they developed was to make two training pitches for Argyle’s exclusive use and two further pitches at Barn Park for use by local leagues, with the club paying for all the levelling work. It was recognised that the Argyle pitches would be enclosed and public access lost to about seven acres of parkland.
The plan was debated by Plymouth City Council’s Estates Committee on 23rd October 1973 when it was decided to ask for it to have the full Council’s blessing. Newspaper reports of the subsequent Council debate on 12th November 1973 show that the discussion revolved around the loss of public access and the need to support the football club.
In the Western Evening Herald report the next day, one council member, Mrs Marion Telford, pointed out that the park was 234 acres in area and the public had full access to 156 acres plus the golf course, with the zoo, Mayflower Centre and swimming pool being restricted. “All that was being discussed was the future use of seven acres,” she said. Another member, Mr Jack Wigmore described the plan as “forward-looking, imaginative, and one which would be of ultimate benefit to the city and its citizens.”
Opposing the plan, Mr Tony Parish, felt that Argyle was seeking special treatment, and that the council should strike a balance between the club’s needs and those of the general public. “We have to choose between short-sighted, self interest and the long-term good of the community,” he said. “I believe it is too high a price we are being asked to pay for the carrots now offered us.” Mr E R N Pengelly said that he agreed with the principle that the council should help Argyle wherever possible but not when it meant that the public would be excluded from a further seven acres of the park. In the vote that followed, there was overwhelming support for Argyle’s plan with Mr Pengelly’s amendment being defeated by 52 votes to 6.
The planning application to change the use of the land and carry out the levelling work was made by the Council’s Estates Committee, not the football club, and it attracted 109 letters of objection. When it was considered by the Council’s Planning Committee on 5th March 1974, they voted to refuse permission. It was referred back to the full Council and on 25th March 1974, they voted to change the Planning Committee’s decision.
When the work completed in 1975, it not only removed a significant area of the park from public access but also had the following consequences which still exist:
- It extinguished the path section that was opposite the zoo’s entrance leading to Pounds Park. This followed natural contours with gentle gradients whereas the replacement section makes a poor connection with Coronation Avenue and is significantly steeper.
- It made tall banks along the northern side of Coronation Avenue thereby creating visual barriers in the direction of Pounds Park to form an uncomfortable and potentially unsafe environment. The loss of views was later compounded when the football club planted a Leylandii hedge around their training pitches.
- It made it extremely difficult to extend Jubilee Row in a northerly direction at Barn Park as had been intended, and the path splay was still evident until the sustainable drainage system was constructed in 2023. Without such an extension, the path network at Barn Park remains poorly aligned, with visitors finding it difficult to negotiate and understand the park.
- It isolated Love’s Field from the rest of the park diminishing its potential for amenity and making it largely unvisited.