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Running club founder defends Copas family following criticism over pavilion proposals

The founder of Cookham Running Club, Peta Bee, has come to the defence of Copas Farms after their plans to create a pavilion and space for pitches in Long Lane came in for criticism from several villagers this month.

The plans to build new pitches and a pavilion for Cookham Dean FC - as well as other community sports groups - have been given the green light by the council, however, some in the village view the proposals with suspicion and fear the Copas family has ulterior motives for providing the facilities.

Peta, who set up the successful village running club several years ago and works as a health and fitness columnist and writer for The Times, has urged people to welcome the plans for what they are, a chance to get more children and adults active again after a challenging 12 months of lockdown restrictions.

Responding to criticism in the Advertiser’s letters pages, Peta said it was a ‘no brainer’ for the village to snap up this generous offer to improve grassroots sports provision at a time when childhood obesity levels are rising and activity levels are declining sharply.

She has no prior relationship with the Copas family but the running club has benefitted from the generosity of both Copas Farms and the Copas Partnership this year as they enabled the club to stage its Junior Performance Cross Series on private fruit field land in Cookham.

It was the only event of its kind to take place in the UK last year and it attracted no fewer than 11 national age group champions to take part.

“I don’t have any personal relationship with them, but they were just so kind to us with regards to the cross-country events,” she said. “They’re offering to provide sports facilities so as far as I’m concerned that’s a good thing. “He hasn’t said that we could use those pitches, but they did say that we could maybe run around the outside, because it’s quite a big area.

“The Alfred Major Recreational Ground is fine, but it’s just rammed because it’s the only place people have got to go and play football, rugby, running, and it’s also full of dog walkers.

“But this would be somewhere that’s specifically for sport which is just great.

“It’s always the case, when it comes to the Copas’s, is that people think that if they get permission to build on that area, then they’d look to get permission to build houses on the Switchback area, but I don’t think that’s going to happen at all.

“Speaking with James Copas, he’s said there’s no ulterior motive, they just want to provide something for the community. I know they’re always looking to develop land aren’t they, but it’s really difficult to say ‘no I don’t want sports facilities, because they might, in the future, put a house somewhere’.”

Objections have ranged from those complaining the development will lead to an increase of traffic through the village and into Long Lane especially, to concerns over how the development might look and what it could pave the way for.

Peta doesn’t think traffic will be significantly worsened by the plans and feels the benefits of building a new clubhouse with playing fields will far outweigh the negatives.

“These pitches would be ideal,” she said. “We could run on it, play football, or tag rugby or something. It’s much more of a community thing. People are complaining it will increase traffic into Long Lane, but there is parking there anyway. And anyone who’s ever visited the site will know you can’t see if from the road, the pitches would be built in a dip, and there are already buildings in there.

“The objection is that more people would be driving through Cookham, but they already drive to Alfred Major, which is where Cookham Dean play football now, and there’s no parking there so in a way it’s improving things, not making things worse.

“If you mention the name Copas in Cookham, you tend to get a bad reaction. For some time, there’s always been this assumption that there’s an ulterior motive, that they want to build something. But I think they deserve a bit of a break and some positive publicity. But they let us hold the Junior Performance Cross Series on their ground, with all the facilities, and it was just a lifesaver. We’ve had so much publicity from within the sport as it was the only cross-country series of a good level in the country. We’re just really thankful for that.”

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