ARSONISTS caused up to £2,000 damage when they set fire to changing rooms at Belfairs Sports Ground, in Leigh.

It is believed youths were seen messing about on the roof of the building in Eastwood Road North before the blaze took hold.

A joint police and fire service investigation is under way into what caused the fire.

Leigh firefighter Wayne Davey, said: “When we got there the building was smouldering.

We had to cause a lot of damage to put the fire out. We had to strip all the wooden panels to get to it.

“We definitely know the fire was started deliberately. A resident said he saw youths loitering, then they were gone and the pavilion was on fire.”

The changing rooms, owned by Southend Council, are used by Eastwood Cricket Club and Leigh Ramblers Football Club.

Kevin Robinson, cricket club secretary, said: “Leaves had been stuffed behind the wooden cladding of the building and were alight, so we knew it must have been deliberate.

“It is a worry when you hear something like that happens.

“It also happened last year and about 15 years ago.

“It’s hard to know how to stop the problem, but CCTV would help, as would vigilance from the public.”

Ian Brown, the council’s parks management officer, said: “The building is used regularly as changing rooms for cricket in the summer and football in the winter.

“We do not yet know what caused it. A surveyor is checking the extent of the damage, but it looks as if it may be limited to around 6m sq of timber cladding.

“We will be repairing it. We have not yet fully assessed the cost, but it is expected to be around £1,500 to £2,000.

“The council is working with Essex Police and Essex Fire and Rescue Service to try to prevent any further damage to the park and its woodlands.”

Anyone with information about the fire, which happened at 8.35pm on Monday, is urged to call Southend police on 101.

PARTYING youths started a number of bonfires in Belfairs woodlands over the last week.

Southend Council’s park wardens have upped patrols in its woodlands, after a number of gatherings in the open spaces.

The council’s Ian Brown, said: “In recent days, there have been a number of gatherings of young people in Belfairs woods.

“Unfortunately, this has resulted in a big increase in the amount of litter left in the woods.

“But of particular concern is the number of bonfires that have been lit.

“Bonfires in woodland during the summer can easily get out of hand, with potentially serious consequences.

“All visitors to Belfairs Park are welcome – however, please do not leave your rubbish, and on no account light fires.”