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Fences and floodlights kicked into touch for now as football planning application defeated

February 20, 2015 10:04 PM

In a victory for local residents, the application by Red House Farm FC to fence off over 70% of the field north of Kingston Park Road (Parklands/Fawdon Wards in Newcastle) has been deferred unanimously by a meeting of the City's Planning Committee, which a large number of residents including Sea and Royal Marines cadets attended. It's down to the club to decide upon its next move, but the committee gave a strong steer that while an all weather pitch with floodlights and a fence might be acceptable, 10 foot high fences enclosing most of this public open space wouldn't be. Councillors, council and club officials will sit down together FOR THE FIRST TIME next Thursday...a bit late!

Councillor Robin Ashby thanked the chairman Cllr Allison for his courtesy in enabling councillors from both Parklands Ward (where the field in question is situated) and Fawdon Ward (where many residents have a deep interest) to address the committee. He outlined briefly the planning reasons for rejecting the application.

  1. 1. The weight of public opinion. Of over 1200 detailed and petition objections, only 4% are from outside Newcastle. Of the 116 supporters, a much higher proportion are non residents of the city, and nearly a quarter gave no reason for support.
  2. 2. Newcastle City Council should provide and protect public open space for the whole community, not allow a small group to enclose it to enable them to use it commercially and to go up-market in footballing terms, to the detriment of local children of lesser ability likely being excluded.
  3. 3. Loss of public open space conflicts with UDP policies OS1.1, OS 1,4 and OS1.5
  4. 4. The harm and impact of comprehensive site fencing up to 10 feet high, and floodlights 2 ½ times the height of nearby mature trees, with impact on wildlife including bats, hedgehogs, frogs, sparrow hawks and migratory birds, conflicts with UDP policies GB1 and GB2 and the National Planning Policy Framework paragraphs 79, 80,87,88 and 89
  5. 5. The documentation before you lacks sufficient information and clarity regarding transport, landscape and visual assessment for you to be able to make a sound decision.
  6. 6. No mention is made in the report of harm assessment against policy OS1.4
  7. 7. It can be argued that the City should consult the Secretary of State within the remit of DCLG circular 02/2009 on Green Belt & playing fields
  8. 8. A refusal of the application would likely stand on appeal, given previous Inspectors giving significant strength and weight to Green Belt policies such as those I have quoted.

In conclusion, he said "Members of the committee, our arguments are for recreation for the many local people, not the few, including those from further away; against commercial exploitation, high fences, deprivation of amenity for large numbers of people and other groups, and hugely intrusive floodlights. Were the club to engage properly with the community and its representatives, an acceptable plan might be agreed. But not this one."

Councillor David Faulkner (Fawdon) then told the committee : "I've rarely come across a local issue that has provoked such dismay and opposition among residents - reasonable-minded people, who, like me, want to see organised community sport thrive and have no objection to the continuation of football on these fields.

But not at the expense of depriving the many other long-established users of the fields from their own informal, recreational enjoyment of public open space, for purposes much more than just dog walking as the report might lead us to believe.

Instead they will be consigned to the margins surrounding the pitches, which are the very muddiest areas, or a narrow track, just eight feet in width. It's not even a circuit of the field, as the track runs up against the club's leased land.

This is clear detriment - and in planning terms we believe it constitutes "harm". The NPPF states that the essential characteristic of the Green Belt is its openness and that Green belt policy exceptions for sport and outdoor recreation must preserve this openness (para 43 of the report says it). Our contention is that removing the open access to public land must constitute "harm" - this proposal can't possible represent the "very special circumstances" that are required to justify an exception. The club can operate perfectly well as it is.

The actual planning application gives no justification for the club's proposal - but the report sets out a case based on the current condition of the pitches and specifically improving safety for children and the detrimental effect of dog fouling - we believe this to be overstated. It's odd that the club or its members have never raised dog fouling as an issue with we local members, and there is no record of them having complained or raised it with officers.

On the contrary, the Club's own website contained the following statement (I quote) "Red House Farm FC facilities are among the best in the Newcastle area, both on and off the field. Our pitches are well-kept and benefit from excellent drainage, meaning we are often able to train or stage games when other clubs' pitches are unusable" End of quote. Hardly a responsible statement if the land is contaminated by dog fouling and unsafe for children. The website has also promoted the availability for hire of the pitches as well as the clubhouse. This is in breach of the club's permit which is for their own use of the pitches. They have also breached their lease by staging unlicensed public events.

Para 19 lists the comments of the ward members but the final three comments listed did not feature as comments from any of us. We understand that there is an over-supply not a shortage of all-weather and similar quality pitches.

We would also like to draw attention to what we consider to be wholly deficient and arguably deliberately misleading so-called "informal consultation" by the club. Para 16 of the report refers. Their leaflet about the drop-in meeting was of very limited and late circulation and crucially made no reference whatsoever to the subject of the application. i.e. fences or floodlights, only (and I quote) "plans for the future development of the club". We made some what we thought were helpful suggestions about consultation and the leaflet, to help ensure more meaningful dialogue, but they were all ignored by the club.

Please note that the ecologist report, para 68 onwards, makes no reference to bats, which has been flagged up by the Wildlife Trust. His visit was carried out at a hibernation time of the year for bats and other mammals. Bats are active from April to late October and are likely to be affected by the lighting throw in spring and autumn.

On traffic (it's a busy road) and on parking congestion, it's a controversial matter locally and regularly overwhelms existing parking capacity and overspills into neighbouring estates NOW. We were told by the Club at a Residents Association meeting that the club needed this development to be able to compete in higher leagues and stage additional competitive events. One of the listed reasons for support, para 18, page 14 is that the fields are currently under-used apart from match or training days. This is only true for organised activities, but why make the point anyway unless there is an intention for more intensive use?

Additionally. the promise, recorded five years ago in the ward charter, that the club would liaise with the league to rationalise fixtures to relieve parking, never happened. So it's a recognition that current parking is unacceptable - and why should any confidence be attached to the same promise now?

In conclusion, we believe that the football club can still operate perfectly adequately, as they do now, and we ask you to refuse the application."

In a display of cross-party co-operation, Cllr Antoine Tinnion also spoke against the application.