A CLASH of sporting codes could happen in Thurrock after options for a new ground for Grays Athletic prompted a caustic response from the Borough's senior rugby club - who say their sport’s future could be cut short if football is given precedence.
At a recent meeting with fans, Grays Athletic announced that their plans for a new home in the Borough were based around a plan to move to land adjacent to the existing rugby playing fields in North Grays.
However, the rugby club say the land has already been earmarked for their use if they lose part of their existing site for a new Williams Edwards School.
That is the proposal outlined in Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation's North Grays masterplan, a project broadly accepted by Thurrock Council, which will assume full planning responsibilities for the area in March, which could leave Grays’ designs on the plot of land in limbo.
It does, however, leave open an option to switch their new build plans to a patch of land adjacent to Treetops school, identified in a recent Enquirer report.
The Enquirer understands that Treetops, though allocated use of the land that is owned by Thurrock Council, would be receptive to a new stadium build there.
Rugby club president Brian Howells (pictured left) contacted the Enquirer to flag up his concerns over future sporting developments in the area - and refuted reports that the rugby club had been involved in discussions with Grays Athletic or the Council.
He said: “I wish to express our concern with the presumption that Grays Athletic have been in consultation with Thurrock RFC. This is not the case. We know nothing of this surprise development, which could prove detrimental to probably the largest sports organisation in Thurrock.
“If, in the future, the William Edwards development goes ahead, the land to the north of the club was pencilled in as playing fields, to replace those council pitches lost by the club. With some 18 -19 teams right across the age range, our own facilities are insufficient to contemplate continuation without these extra facilities.”
Grays Athletic chairman Keith Burns has responded by saying he believes the two sports clubs can live and work together.
Mr Burns (right) said: “Grays Athletic's ambitions for a re-location to Blackshots should actually prove to be complementary to those of Thurrock Rugby Club.
“We have a supermarket and corner shop scenario; it depends on which you own as to how much you mind the other moving in next door. Whilst we both want the best for our own clubs, surely the most important factor is extending the leisure and recreation opportunities within the town.
“We are close to securing finance for the most modest of our plans, and are mindful of the assistance offered to us while we have had nowhere to play. Once we know the scale of project which we can finance, it will be an appropriate time to sit down with the Rugby Club, and the Harriers.
“To do so before would be like discussing the Emperor's new clothes.
“One would have thought that all weather and/or indoor facilities would appeal to all concerned, and be much closer to the original concept of a community multi-sports ‘hub’ development.
“Personally, I see no reason why both schemes could not go ahead simultaneously, an integrated project would offer synergy savings and make much sense, but as Mr Howells is talking to The Enquirer and not me, I really can't comment further.”
Meanwhile another sporting club in the region has also dismissed reports that it has been involved in discussion with Grays about ground use.
Grays have identified the former Fords United ground in Romford as a possible interim ground for their use if they have to leave the Borough next season as it seems unlikely that their current ground-share at East Thurrock will be renewed.
Grays supporters were told that Grays have secured tenure of the Fords site and that they will refurbish it for their own use and then switch with Romford, who currently ground-share at Aveley.
However, Romford chairman Steve Gardener says he has not spoken to Grays about Rush Green and that his only negotiations over the site have been in the past, with the former management of site owners West Ham United.
“My contact with West Ham goes back before the current owners took over at the Hammers but I haven't spoken with the new regime.
“We would be delighted to move back to Rush Green, as former tenants there under Fords we only moved out because we couldn't secure more than a one year lease which was a requirement for our Ryman League ambitions, but it is a natural fit for our club to go back there. But if Grays have included us in their proposals I haven't heard anything from them.”
A spokesperson for West Ham said that it was not their policy to comment on other clubs but added the Hammers’ own plans for Rush Green, which include a state of the art training centre to replace their existing Chadwell Heath training facility, had not changed.