AFC Rushden & Diamonds fans may be aware that there have been a number of initiatives regarding the future of the Nene Park complex. These are visible on the East Northants Council Planning Portal – using a link such as the following – http://pawebsrv.east-northamptonshire.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=NZ3DA6GO03N00
The club has been requested to comment on each of the proposals, and has prepared a response to the most recent proposal, which will be visible on the planning portal, but which is also copied below to allow fans to view the stance that the club is taking over this issue.
The body of the response was as follows:-
I write on behalf of the members of AFC Rushden and Diamonds. We would like to formally object to the Outline Planning Application No. 15/02198/OUT: Demolition of existing football stadium and associated infrastructure and erection of new retail and leisure development including retail (A1), foodstore (A1), cinema (D2), hotel (C1), restaurants (A3/A5) and new community football facility along with access and parking (All matters reserved except access) (Re-submission of 14/02310/OUT).
As you are no doubt aware, and as mentioned in my previous letter to you of 7th February 2015, our Club was established in July 2011 by a dedicated group of fans after the untimely demise of the original Rushden and Diamonds Football Club. We have a large membership approaching 1000 people, 36 teams playing at many levels of football and are a not-for profit Community Benefit Society. It is part of our constitution and of our mission statement that the club will build and maintain strong links with the local community.
The reasons for our formal objection to the proposals are as follows:
• Realisation of the development proposed within the Outline Planning Application would result in the loss of a large football stadium and another full-sized pitch plus a five-a-side pitch. The local community is in dire need of such facilities and they are only out of use currently due to the desire of the current owner(s) to re-develop the land.
Paragraph 74 of the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (ISBN 9781409834137) states:
Existing open space, sports and recreational buildings and land, including playing fields, should not be built on unless:
- an assessment has been undertaken which has clearly shown the open space, buildings or land to be surplus to requirements; or
- the loss resulting from the proposed development would be replaced by equivalent or better provision in terms of quantity and quality in a suitable location; or
- the development is for alternative sports and recreational provision, the needs for which clearly outweigh the loss
To our knowledge, none of the above criteria have been fulfilled and we do not believe that it would be possible for any of these criteria to be met by the development as proposed within the Outline Planning Application. Furthermore, it is of grave concern to our Membership that granting planning permission for the proposed development would facilitate the demolition of the existing stadium and associated pitches and facilities without firm agreements in place to ensure that that these facilities are replaced by equivalent or better provision in terms of quantity and quality in a suitable location.
• The existing football pitch, at the rear of the site, which has been marked on the “Illustrative Masterplan” (556218) within the Outline Planning Application as a “Community Football Facility”, is referred to in section 22 of the “Statement of Benefits” document (556273) as follows:
The northern pitch is to be retained as a playing field for community use, to be maintained by the developer and managed by an organisation to be agreed with East Northants Council. This pitch to be protected unless determined as surplus as part of the Playing Pitch Strategy or a replacement is provided which meets the requirements of Paragraphs 73-74 of the NPPF and Sport England policy.
Whilst AFC R&D would welcome access to a useful playing pitch for the local community, the area shown on the site layout is not sufficient to allow space for any ancillary structures at all around the pitch such as toilet facilities or changing rooms. Without such facilities, the pitch will be of absolutely no use to any local football club whatsoever; therefore it is unlikely that any organisation will be able to manage it as proposed by the above. There is also no separate provision for vehicular parking for this pitch shown on the plan. Since the facility is so far away from the town it will clearly be desirable for people to drive there, but the proposal does not suggest that any parking will be available. In order for this pitch to become of use to the local community, we feel that provision should be made for the aforementioned toilet facilities, changing facilities and parking and also that careful consideration should be given to the safety of local children – who are likely to be the main users of such a pitch – given its proximity to moving vehicles both as part of the proposed development and also that it is adjacent to what could become an access road to the “potential site for the new Irthingborough Marina”.
• Section 20 of the “Statement of Benefits” document (556273) states:
20. The applicant will contribute the sum of £200,000 towards suitable replacement playing facilities in accordance with a Needs Assessment undertaken in accordance with Sport England Guidance, and which will be facilitated by East Northamptonshire Council in collaboration with the Northamptonshire Football Association.
This statement is extremely vague and does not specify what would constitute “suitable replacement playing facilities”. Furthermore, given that the playing facilities lost would amount to one full-sized football pitch and one 5-a-side pitch along with associated spectator stands, changing rooms, toilet facilities, parking, floodlighting, bar and other catering and hospitality facilities, the proposed £200,000 seems a rather small contribution considering suitable replacement playing facilities could cost in the region of £2.5 million. It is our opinion that the developer should be offering a significantly greater contribution towards suitable replacement facilities as part of the proposal.
• Section 21 of the “Statement of Benefits” document (556273) states:
21. Discussions are ongoing regarding the location for the development of a new football hub with enhanced facilities. Details of the proposed location will be made available during the planning application process.
We are extremely disappointed that AFC Rushden & Diamonds, as the largest local community football club, has not been able to become engaged in this process. The Club has not been consulted either by the developer or by any of the bodies mentioned in section 20 of the “Statement of Benefits” document. Since AFC Rushden & Diamonds is responsible for facilitating more football participation hours than any other local club, we would have hoped to be consulted as part of such discussions and feel that we could have made a valuable contribution to them.
As previously mentioned, the local area is already severely lacking in sporting facilities. For example, when answering East Northants District Council’s Playing Pitch Strategy survey, a representative of the Club detailed amongst their responses that we currently have 21 teams who would actively prefer to play their home matches within East Northants but cannot due to a lack of local playing facilities. Having reviewed the documentation accompanying the aforementioned Outline Planning Application, we feel that granting planning permission for the proposed development would be of further detriment to this situation rather than helping to address it.
Considering the above, we trust that you will recommend to your committee that this Outline Planning Application should be refused.