A former South Africa Test cricketer is making a powerful heartfelt plea to the Bishop of Leicester to save a much-prized open space in a Harborough village.
Claude Henderson, 49, has sent an open letter to Bishop Martyn Snow urging him to protect the field in Church Langton for “years to come” for the sake of local children – including his young daughter.
The ex-Leicestershire County Cricket star is acting just weeks after Harborough MP Neil O’Brien called on the top clergyman to end a furious stand-off with outraged villagers over the highly-emotive issue.
Claude, who starred in seven Tests and four One Day Internationals for South Africa, has told Bishop Martyn Snow that he’s lived with his family in Church Langton for 15 years.
“We have been extremely fortunate to be part of a wonderful village life, offering our daughter all the advantages a village can offer," said Claude, who played for Leicestershire County Club from 2004-2013.
“I’ve spent nearly 30 years in professional / international cricket as a player, coach and now ambassador for Leicestershire County Cricket Club.
“I am very fortunate to have had such a long, successful career in professional sport, thanks mainly to my upbringing and opportunities I got along the way.
“As a child, I had access to a playing field in our community where I grew up.
“This played an enormous part in my physical, mental and social development.
“The open space / field in Church Langton has given so many kids, including mine, the opportunity over the years to go and play and develop their social, mental and physical skills.
“As a resident ,we are so fortunate that our daughter can walk from home and enjoy an open space which is safe, clean and open,” said Claude, who was a gifted left-arm spinner.
“I have to be honest, if this was not available, I don’t know if we would have stayed in Church Langton for so many years, as it’s playing a major part of our daughter’s upbringing.
“I really hope this open space I will be protected and valued for years to come!
“The long term benefits it will offer to the community and its visitors is fundamental.”
Claude has gone in to bat for the community after a fence and a gate put up on the recreation space earlier this year – inflaming tensions even more – were then taken down again.
Responding to the local cricket hero’s letter, a spokesperson for the Bishop said: “The Leicester Diocesan Board of Education (LDBE) is obliged to manage its assets and investments for the benefit of the 97 schools it is responsible for supporting and is not free to write off future income opportunities for this land but even so had done everything it could to support the village by marking out part of the land and making it available for recreation whilst the rest was marketed for grazing.
“The Bishop was sad to learn that this was not acceptable to the community and is aware that the LDBE issued the following statement earlier this summer.”
The Leicester Diocesan Board of Education said in June: “After careful consideration, the Leicester Diocesan Board of Education has decided to remove the fence and gate which had been recently installed.
“This had been designed to make available a section of the field for the community to use recreationally in addition to the ongoing right to use the public footpath.
“LDBE are disappointed that this generous offer was not considered acceptable to the community,” said the Board.
“LDBE will reinstate the fence that was previously installed, with advice on its placement from Leicestershire County Council in 2008.
“The majority of the field will continue to be marketed for grazing.
“The field is subject to a planning designation as ‘Open Space for Sport & Recreation’ which does not require privately owned land to be made available for community recreational use.
“However, the public footpath which crosses the field will remain available to all members of the public at all times.
“LDBE has considered the matter in detail and reflected on the views of local residents along with professional advice.”
Imploring the Bishop to intervene personally, MP Neil O’Brien has told him: “As you know the land has historically been open space and was part of the school playing fields.
“Many residents walk dogs on it as it is really the only open green space within the village.
“The residents I have spoken to understand there is a desire to lease the land for grazing.
“I also understand some residents have offered to at least match the rent for grazing from their own pocket, though I understand these offers were unfortunately rejected,” said the Conservative MP.
“After refusal for housing by the council and then the Planning Inspectorate, through the conversations LDBE has held with representatives and the leader of Harborough District Council, it has been made clear that future proposals for housing on this land will not materialise or be granted.
“I would urge LDBE to re-engage with Harborough District Council and residents on this once again to ensure the planning policies governing this land are fully discussed and understood – before relationships between the Church and residents deteriorate further,” said Neil.