A public meeting will be held tonight to discuss plans by a new free school to section off part of The Racecourse in Northampton to use as a playing field for pupils.
Set for the site of the former Royal Mail sorting office in Barrack Road, the Northampton International Academy could use a part of the popular park to compensate for lack of outdoor space.
They will have a fight on their hands if they try to section off any part of the RacecourseSally Haddon
Plans for the school were approved by the Government this month and it will take more than 2,200 pupils from ages three through to 19 by 2022.
Although it will link to the existing Castle Academy next door, which has a playground and sports field, the site itself has little open space.
But sponsors of both schools, EMLC Trust, will attend tonight’s meeting following public objections to the idea of a private organisation annexing public land.
Friends of Northampton Racecourse (FoNR)secretary Sally Haddon said: “They will have a fight on their hands if they try to section off any part of the Racecourse, which is a beautiful public space used by many who don’t have gardens.
“With Castle Academy as well, EMLC have a huge site and they need to look again at using their own facilities.
“They are as entitled as any member of public to hire sports courts for temporary use, but our concern is that later on they will permanently cordon it off for safety.”
The Racecourse has existed for more than 300 years and was taken over by the army during wartime.
Ms Haddon said EMLC’s plan, is the “biggest threat to public ownership since then”.
She said: “We need to protect it now and for the future.”
EMLC chief executive Jan Marshall said: “We included in our proposal a number of options for delivering sports activities for pupils.
“One of the options, in partnership with Northampton Borough Council, is use of the Racecourse, for sports, team games and recreation.
“The academy will make a range of facilities available to the wider community, especially in arts and sports.”
The meeting will take place at the Leicester Street Community Room at 7.30pm.
EMLC are in discussion with local authorities about the proposal.
A Northamptonshire County Council spokesman said: “We have begun discussions with Northampton Borough Council about whether part of The Racecourse could be used for sport and recreation by the new academy.
“In partnership with EMLC, we are considering a variety of options to provide open space for future pupils, and any proposals will be subject to the formal consultation process undertaken for a new free school.”
A Northampton Borough Council spokesperson said: “This would mean that an area could be used by the school during school hours – a football pitch, for example – but revert to general public use outside school hours.
“It would not be permanently sectioned off for the school, and there would be no loss of any public open space. “