AN open letter calling for the Isle of Wight Council not to end its financial support for a Newport sports facility has been signed by more than 100 Islanders in just a few hours.
Cllr Chris Whitehouse said the letter, published online by Newport Victoria Sports and Social Club chairman Brian Knight, was in response to a threat from the council to stop paying a grant that allows volunteers to maintain the pavilion and site.
The letter was published yesterday (Thursday) and attracted backing from sports club members and even the local priest, Father Gerald Flynn, who said: "As parish priest to the Catholics between Newport and Totland I pray for the fullest support for this valuable public amenity."
Fellow backer, Stephen Keyzor, of Carisbrooke, said: "The pavilion and recreation ground are used daily by many people from all walks of life.
"There are approximately 45 under 18 year olds using the facilities weekly for cricket as well as all the other activities available. A price cannot be put on the amount of enjoyment people get from the ground."
Cllr Whitehouse said the campaign had his unequivocal support.
He also hit back at claims of scaremongering, levelled at campaigners by the Isle of Wight Council after they reported officers told them the facility could be closed and the pavilion demolished.
He said it had since transpired the option had been put forward twice at a recent meeting.
Cllr Chris Whitehouse said: "It is completely unacceptable for an unnamed council officer to issue a statement impugning the integrity of members of the committee who have accurately reported what they were told at a meeting with officers only a few weeks ago.
"That statement should be withdrawn and an apology given by the leader of the council.
"More importantly, the Independent administration must think again and ensure that a solution to the funding crisis for this vital local facility is found.
"The committee want to work with the council to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome that secures the future of the recreation ground on a sustainable basis for decades to come, but that is difficult to do when the council issues unhelpful, misleading and frankly defamatory remarks which risk bringing the council into disrepute.
"Nobody would gain by the closure of this facility and everyone must work together to find a solution to this problem. Clearly, the £17,000 which was diverted by council officers from the recreation ground, for which it had been clearly earmarked, should also be returned."
Cllr Jon Gilbey, executive member for resources, told the County Press: "During a meeting last month a number of options for the future of the building at Newport Recreation Ground were discussed between council officers and the management group.
"Due to the high annual costs of maintaining the building, and as a last resort should no way forward be found, the council may have to consider the demolition of the building, although this is not the preferred option.
"We are sorry if, by stating this in the meeting, it led to concern and upset for residents and users. However there are no plans to demolish the building or close the ground."
The open letter can be viewed here