In a significant setback to existing proposals for the Southborough Hub development, Sport England have told planners they are making an “outright objection” to the application due to the loss of playing fields used by the local soccer teams.
The report by Sport England appeared on Monday morning on the Tunbridge Wells Planning website. (NB This blog has been slightly updated on Wednesday)
Sport England’s view is likely to hold a lot of weight in the planning decision and it has special powers as a “statutory consultee.” It is now possible that – even if the Hub plans are approved by the planning committee in Tunbridge Wells next month- the development could be vetoed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, (below) on the basis of the loss of sports fields.
The Hub project team insist they will continue to pursue the Hub application to the planning committee decision. At the same time, it is possible that negotiations could take place between Sport England and the project board about a development using up less space on playing fields or making specific provision of replacement soccer pitches elsewhere in Tunbridge Wells.
The precise mechanism is that if Tunbridge Wells councillors ignore Sport England, the application would automatically be referred to the National Planning Casework Unit. This is a unit within the Department of Communities and Local Government, which could then decide to “call in” the proposal and refer it to the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, who’s the former Sports minister, who would make a final decision on whether the scheme could go ahead.
Meanwhile, the planning website recorded another 17 objections on Monday to the hub and one message in support – from one of the Southborough Town Councillors behind the scheme, Bob Backhouse. The tally on Monday night was 82% against, with 121 objectors and 26 supporters. Further comments were added on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Sport England’s submission says: “The proposed development would appear to be sited on an existing pavilion and an area of playing field, which is currently marked out for playing pitches. Locating this aspect of the proposed development on the existing playing field would prejudice the use of the playing field. Although the proposal includes a replacement pavilion it is not clear who will be providing this. For the avoidance of doubt, Sport England has responded to various Local Plan document consultations objecting to this site being allocated (we are happy to provide these on request) and we therefore do not support the loss of part of this playing field site.”
It continues: “As part of this consultation, Sport England consulted The FA and they confirmed that they strongly object to the proposal. They also confirmed the following key points:
- According to Kent FA records and league/club enquiries the site is used by Tunbridge Wells Youth FC (formerly Tunbridge Wells Ridgewaye Youth), an FA Charter Standard Community Club with 37 affiliated teams. The club also includes 47 female players and have also supported 65 coaches with their next level coaching qualification within the last four years.
- The Playing Pitch Strategy is in its early stages and therefore currently there isn’t an up to date needs analysis for Tunbridge Wells. It should be noted that the brief indicated that it is generally acknowledged that Tunbridge Wells and the wider borough have an under-provision of quality sports pitches and ancillary facilities – many of which are dated, and compromised. (Tunbridge Wells BC, PPS Brief, March 2016).
- Our early investigate indicate that potentially 2 ½ pitches will be lost leading to the potentially displacement of teams; we understand that 2x 5v5; 2x7v7 and an 11v11 pitch that has 9v9 marked are at risk. The proposal includes a replacement pavilion for the existing pavilion that will be lost as a result of this development. However we understand that the club have been asked to apply for funding from Football Foundation for the proposed pavilion, which places this element of the scheme at risk. The current pavilion plans are not compliant to FA standards.
- The loss of so many grass pitches will have a significant negative impact not least to the club in first instance but also the overall supply in an area where demand is high.”
Sport England conclude: “In light of the above, Sport England objects to the application because it is not considered to accord with any of the exceptions to Sport England’s Playing Fields Policy or with Paragraph 74 of the NPPF. Should your Council be minded to grant planning permission for the development then in accordance with The Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2009, the application should be referred to the Secretary of State via the National Policy Casework Unit.”
The project team reacted in comments to Times of Tunbridge Wells on Wednesday. In the paper, the hub’s project leader at Southborough Town Council, Glenn Lester, said the Sport England’s objection was ‘not terminal’ for the project’s prospects.
“Whenever any developer uses land which is classed as sports fields Sport England are always going to object, so this was always expected. We knew they were never going to support it.”
He believes the planners will be ‘mindful’ of the objection but ultimately will take a ‘common sense’ approach and give the go-ahead.
In addition, he refuted claims that there was no clarity on the provision of a new pavilion, stating ‘most’ of the funding would come from the proceeds of the sale, while the FA may provide additional funding if they wish to expand on the existing plans.
Mr Lester’s views were echoed by the hub’s project manager at Kent County Council, Jonathan White, who said: “Sport England are statutory consultees and we have been in consultation with them throughout the life of the project. Their objection was not unexpected and will be fully considered.”