HEXHAM Football Club are preparing to lobby Active Northumberland to install an astroturf pitch in the town centre.

Chairman Doug Robson is asking the leisure operators to forge ahead with any plans to transform the grassed area at Wentworth Leisure Centre into a 3G surface to allow more football, and other sports, to be played there.

When it was revealed in June there was a suggestion of the move, Tynedale Harriers chairman Richard Hunter started a petition objecting on the grounds that the area was needed to allow throwing events, such as javelin and discus, to take place during athletics meetings.

The online petition has been signed by more than 1,200 people to date, including Olympians Laura Weightman and Aly Dixon, and Paralympian Stephen Miller.

But Mr Robson said that there was a desperate need for an artificial playing surface in Hexham town centre, as he felt the town was being left behind surrounding areas.

He claimed the proposals had the backing of the Football Foundation, Northumberland FA, the West Youth Division and Tynedale Mini Soccer League, and he was now calling on Active Northumberland to give the go-ahead on what he described was a ‘no-brainer’.

“We have 23 teams from development sides to a senior squad and, while we have pitches at the fantastic Dukeshouse facility, we have to borrow pitches from the likes of Acomb and Hexham Middle School.

“We feel the west of the county has been neglected because there are no 3G facilities around with the exception of Prudhoe High School.

“It isn’t just Hexham FC who will use the facility, it is the entire Tyne Valley and people will come from Haltwhistle, Bellingham, Corbridge etc to use it.

“The facility would be used continuously and would be a good money spinner for Active Northumberland, and we are desperate for one at the Wentworth.

“ In the winter, our teams can be without a game for four, five, six weeks because of bad weather, but we could keep playing throughout on the astroturf.”

Mr Hunter, who organises an annual multi-events fixture which attracts athletes from across Europe, said that the change would kill athletics in the Tyne Valley.

He said: “The field is integral to athletics and we cannot function as a club if we lose it. The facility is the only one in the area and, as a club, we need a facility to compete and train on.

“The petition has shown the disgust and concerns people have towards losing the facility if the 3G goes down on the field.

“It will be the end of Tynedale Harriers as an athletics club unless a facility can be provided to replace what we currently have.”

At this stage, Active Northumberland said it was weighing up both options.

A spokesman said: “There have been some very early discussions around the potential installation of a new 3G football pitch at Wentworth Leisure Centre. No decisions have been made around the proposal.

“Active Northumberland is very mindful of the potential impact a new pitch could have on throwing events on the athletics field at the centre. Meetings are being arranged with interested parties to explore the options, with a view to reaching an early decision.”