Iron-age village in Sidmouth?

The parents of 100 children living in Baker Close, Sidmouth, are now fighting archaeologists as well as developers in their battle to keep a field as a play area.

The parents of 100 children living in Baker Close, Sidmouth, are now fighting archaeologists as well as developers in their battle to keep a field as a play area.

On Wednesday railings went up around two fields opposite Baker Close and Howarth Close, as workmen cleared the area ready for an archaeological dig, following findings during a survey on the land which has been earmarked for housing.

Building is scheduled to start next year and anomalies during a survey, believed to have been prompted by the discovery of Saxon finds, may dash hopes that the field would be retained as a play area until then.

Metal goalposts on the land, paid for by local parents, have apparently masked survey readings so far and are due to be removed - to the disgust of families who have petitioned EDDC to retain them and to keep the field as a safe play area for children if plans for 133 homes are approved.

"I have spoken to the site manager who told me the site was going to be cordoned off to do archaeological digs and possibly dig up the pitch to look for archaeological finds," said campaigning granny Jan Jones from Baker Close.

"It could be an Iron Age village under there. They have picked up significant amounts of iron and semi-circular structures."

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She, her daughter Sharon and neighbour Dawn Manley have collected 100 signatures on their petition.

They believe Devon and Cornwall Housing Association's application for housing, 89 per cent of which would be affordable homes, does not offer suitable open space for children to play safely.

Jan said she spoke to a planning officer "who was adamant we were not keeping the pitch."

Dawn said: "This football pitch is the hub of the community where our children play, and have picnics. We can keep an eye on them there. It would be a disaster if we lost that field."

Children have used the field for 15 years. Councillor Christine Drew believes EDDC should be "sensitive" to the views of residents, while understanding the need for affordable housing.

She thought children should be allowed to use the land after the dig, until building starts next year if the scheme is approved.

However, Councillor Stuart Hughes added it was always understood the current football 'pitch' would go when housing was built but reassured families that the new community centre proposed for nearby would include an outside play area.

An EDDC spokesman said:"With a severe shortage of affordable housing across East Devon and Sidmouth in particular, the council and DCHA are determined to provide as many new homes for local people as we can."

He said the site was earmarked for housing more than 20 years ago. He believed it would not be safe for children to use the site after the dig.

"There is an existing play space, with swings and slides, in Howarth Close. He refuted residents' concerns about broken glass and syringes on the alternative play area which parents belive is unsafe, hidden by trees and close to the A3052.

EDDC's spokesman said an area set aside as part of the housing plans as play space would "provide a more formal, level amenity area for a variety of uses for all ages, including ball games.