FURTHER COMMENTS REGARDING THE PLANNING APPLICATION REFERENCE 93628/FUL/18 TURN MOSS SITE

23 April 2018

 

FURTHER COMMENTS REGARDING THE PLANNING APPLICATION REFERENCE 93628/FUL/18

TURN MOSS SITE

 

A response to developments since original deadline.

 

 

General summary

We continue to object to the proposals in the strongest possible terms.

All of our concerns regarding the proposals remain and, in addition, recent information produced by consultees and others merely adds to the confusion created by this badly thought out and unacceptably rushed planning application.

The proposal represents inappropriate development in the Green Belt with significant harm.

There is considerable other harm, in addition to that represented by the inappropriateness of the development proposed, including, amongst many others, harm to the landscape; to wildlife; to the residential amenities of local residents, by way of noise/light intrusion; to highway safety; to the flood risk of surrounding areas  and the site itself; and loss of publicly accessible playing fields.

The supposed benefits of the scheme are minimal and vague, and in no way compensate for the harm to the Green Belt and other harm.

The scheme fails to comply with, or meet the requirements of, a large number of adopted development plan policies, as well as legal and National planning policy requirements.

There has been no attempt on the part of the applicant to address issues of sustainable development, including environmental concerns (the site is a wildlife corridor, a protected landscape area, a community forest area, and a flood plain), and the use of Sustainable Drainage Systems, as well as eco-friendly and energy efficient sustainable designs.

There are a very large number of inconsistencies within and between documents and plans.

The documentation submitted, both initially and more recently, contains significant and crucial inaccuracies, and/or is incomplete or misleading.

Public statements put out into the public realm by members or officials of the applicant before and during the application process have created an impression, rightly or wrongly, that there is pressure upon the local planning authority (LPA) to make a decision in an unacceptably short period of time.  In addition, this makes it effectively impossible for the LPA to give sufficient attention to complex planning issues and the volume and quality of the objections from the local community.

Whilst we have every faith that the LPA will do its utmost to ensure complete impartiality in dealing with this application from the Council, we conclude that, in the light of the above, the LPA has little option but to follow the procedures below:

  • The LPA should request the applicant to withdraw the application until such time as full and coherent plans and reports are available for consultation with statutory and other necessary bodies.  Without this, many of the responses from the consultees are clearly based on incorrect or incomplete information and therefore of no practical use.
  • In the case of the Council refusing to withdraw the application, the LPA should request a deferment of the decision until it has had sufficient time to assess all current and (presumably) future responses fully, with additional consultation as necessary.
  • In the case of the Council refusing to accept a deferment, the LPA should recommend refusal for this proposal, on the basis that it is inappropriate development in the Green Belt with insufficient benefit to clearly outweigh the harm to Green Belt and other harm caused.  In addition, it should be refused on the basis that it fails to comply with every single relevant adopted development plan policy identified in the documentation and/or otherwise pointed out in responses.  Given the incoherent nature of the proposals and misleading information put out into the public realm by the applicant, there is no other reasonable or rational decision.
  • Should the LPA be considering recommending grant of permission, the whole proposal should be referred to the Secretary of State for consideration, given that the proposed development meets the requirements of The Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2009, as laid out in paragraphs 3, 4 and 7-11.

 

Although we cannot envisage any circumstances in which the LPA might consider recommending granting permission for this proposal, we would also note that in order to make any attempt to try to meet the plethora of concerns, inadequacies, errors and missing information contained in this application, the LPA would need to apply so many conditions and agreements (contractual or otherwise) as to render such a decision irrational and unreasonable.  In such circumstances, a Judicial Review would be highly likely to succeed.  

 

Further Detailed Comments

 

Since our previous response, certain further reports or amended reports have been published.  We contend that these do nothing significant to deal with earlier issues and, in some cases, simply make matters worse.  The stage that this application has reached is now one where almost every additional piece of information has serious and harmful knock on effects to the rest of the scheme, to the extent that it is now totally incoherent and inconsistent as to be beyond mere tinkering.  The scheme needs to be re-worked completely and re-presented as a proposal that makes sense in the context of both planning and community considerations.

We stand by all of our earlier comments and concerns, and would just stress the key points again in the context of the new information made available.  The following reports have been received.

 

Sport England

Whilst we welcome the requirement of Sport England that a number of important matters must be covered by condition, there are a number of other aspects of its report that need further consideration.

 

The First point is that the description of the proposal has been changed.  The most relevant change is that the word “enclosed” has been dropped from the description of the Salford City Football Club (SCFC) training pitches.  TGP has no indication of why this has been done, but it obviously affects the response since at one point Sport England note that the Football Association require that the following issue should be addressed by way of condition: “The fencing height along the western perimeter is increased from 1.5m to 2m to minimise the risk of vandalism/damage and to ensure the openness of the site is retained”.  It is clear, however, that the perimeter fencing does not, as currently drawn, enclose the training pitches, and that the height is, on this basis, irrelevant since anyone can walk around the ends of the fences.  Therefore, now that the pitches are not described as enclosed (even though certain plans still show them as being enclosed) it will be impossible to minimise the risk of vandalism.  TGP find it hard to believe that the pitches (and potentially a greater area than that) will not be enclosed and that the FA and Sport England are not, in reality, under the impression that the whole area will be enclosed once the western perimeter fence is in place.  In any event, Sport England has omitted to include any reference to such a condition, which should be included within the portfolio of suggested conditions given.

 

The Second point is that Sport England does not appear to have considered the proposal from the perspective of Policy Exception E4.  The Supporting Planning Statement (SPS) itself acknowledges that Policy Exception E4 is relevant in that Playing Fields would be lost as a result of the proposal.  It is clear that 9 publically accessible pitches would be lost (including all pitches from the eastern portion of the site) and only one 3G pitch would replace them.  The 3 pitches to be created for SCFC would not be freely accessible to the public, and there is no evidence of any kind in the application documentation that any significant community access to those pitches would be made available. 

 

In addition, the SPS clearly fails to deal with the majority of relevant questions indicated in Policy Exception E5 document (see below), nor does it provide much of the information that is required.  We note also, using the terminology of Sport England, that “other users would be displaced without equivalent replacement provision” and that the proposals would “materially reduce the capability and flexibility of the playing field to provide for a range of sports and natural grass playing pitches”. 

.   

In the TGP response to the planning application, a number of points are made, and TGP would ask the LPA to take into consideration the omission of consideration of Policy Exception E4 by Sport England, and the lack of essential information provided in the SPS to justify the proposal under Policy Exception E5. The relevant points have been covered in our earlier submission and need not be repeated here.  However, the following are offered as additional concerns regarding omission of important information in the context of questions posed in Policy Exception E5.

 

  • Is there evidence that the proposed facility has been carefully located to minimise any adverse impact on the playing field land? For example, has an assessment of alternative sites been undertaken?  No assessment of alternative sites for the SCFC facility has been undertaken, even though there is a clearly obvious alternative site at Manor Farm in Timperley and other possibilities not in Green Belt.  The end result is a net loss of a large number of publicly accessible pitches.
  • Does the proposed facility meet with Sport England’s and the relevant sports national governing body design guidance?  TGP note the following requirement from the FA. “Although the applicant has addressed a number of technical specification queries there are some notable exemptions, namely: a). a detailed AGP layout drawing inclusive of line markings and pitch measurements (current layout drawing doesn’t show necessary detail) and b). presently, the proposed markings prohibit extensive community use and without confirmed pitch sizes for the 3 x horizontal pitches, would also restrict any FA affiliated matchplay. We would request the applicant reviews the proposed pitch markings in conjunction with The FA Guide to Football Turf Pitch Design Principles and Layouts.  From the submitted plans the pitches do not appear to have adequate run-off or spectator facilities - neither do they have space for external storage of equipment (or indeed any space anywhere for storage – see below) or security fencing.  It would not appear that the correct designs can be adopted without increasing the scale of the pitches, which then results in the high degree of likelihood that the proposal would require further analysis of tree loss, amongst other things, since the pitches are shown as very cramped on the site.  This is a good example of how lack of joined-up thinking with regard to this proposal has resulted in knock-on effects that render much of the information provided by consultees unreliable.  In the light of this, a further arboricultural survey is required when the appropriate pitch sizes and locations are provided.
  • Does the design of the proposed facility allow for adequate storage, changing provision and access to allow for community use?  There were two large storage buildings on the site for equipment, including maintenance equipment.  One will be converted into a gym for sole use of SCFC and the other will be taken out of use altogether.  There will, therefore, be no storage facilities whatsoever on site for storage of equipment of various types.  This represents a significant loss of facilities to the local community and may impact on management and maintenance of the site.
  • Is the proposed facility supported by the existing and potential future users of the site e.g. local sports clubs?   No consultation on the proposed scheme was carried out with local sports clubs whatsoever before the planning application was submitted.  Belatedly, some consultations are now taking place but this is too late and there is evidence that many clubs are very much against the proposals.
  • Is there evidence to suggest that the sporting benefits that will arise from the proposed development are unlikely to be obtained in any other way in the foreseeable future?  No!  Local community groups are currently working up alternative ways to create the same or better benefits to the local community than this very expensive and risky scheme, using a community-led approach and alternative funding sources
  • Will the provision of the facility help to enhance the quality of the remaining playing field land e.g. by moving training activity off a grass playing pitch and onto the artificial surface?  No!  The Council’s PPS indicates a possible need for an FA certified pitch only, to cater for competitive games.  There are no guarantees regarding the quality of the remaining playing field or that local teams will have adequate access to the 3G pitch, which will also be available for UA92 (should it materialise) and SCFC to book.
  • Is sports lighting proposed and is it likely that its use will be restricted due to the proximity of residential properties or sensitive areas (e.g. Green Belt or Conservation Areas)?  Yes.  It is Green Belt.  It is also a Wildlife Corridor and area of protected landscape character.  There are residential properties in close proximity and the lighting for the 3G pitch and the lighting for the access road to the car park will be affected by restrictions.
  • To ensure the long term benefit of the facility will a sinking fund be established to ensure the appropriate replacement of the artificial surface and/or sports lighting?  Who knows?  There is no evidence anywhere of a business plan to underpin this scheme.

 

The Third point relates to certain inaccuracies within the response of Sport England.  Since TGP do not know what documentation Sport England was given, it is not clear where certain information has been obtained – particularly since there are numerous inconsistencies between documents.  However, TGP would respectfully point out the following:

 

  • With regard to the summary of the proposal, the building to be provided for SCFC (changing, coaching, offices etc) and the café are not to be built on the site of existing buildings.  They would be new buildings additional to existing buildings, and this is a significant consideration in the issue of this proposal as inappropriate development in the Green Belt.
  • Although the description of the building to be provided for SCFC is described as the “Academy” building this is patently misleading since it will include all necessary facilities for the first team, and one pitch is earmarked for the use of the first team.  This is a facility for the whole of the professional football club and should be assessed as such.
  • The Council’s PPS Action Plan may identify Turn Moss as a potential football hub, but this should not disguise the fact that the application site is Green Belt, part of a designated Wildlife Corridor, an area of protected landscape character, a community forest area, a protected open space area, and a flood plain.  Whilst amateur football has been played here for many years, the site is totally inappropriate for a professional football training facility as part of a major hub, and the proposals are not only inappropriate for a Green Belt area, but also fail to comply with a considerable number of the Council’s own Development Plan Policies, which take precedence over the PPS.
  • There has been as yet no detailed study of the drainage facilities across Turn Moss.  There is clearly a problem with groundwater and most likely an issue with the water table – potentially exacerbated by climate change.  The issues of flooding across some of Turn Moss is due to lack of maintenance of existing drainage equipment, while the proposal indicates only that the existing provisions will be re-used for the purposes of creating the professional standard pitches for SCFC.  There has been no study of the implications of this on the rest of the site, and there is significant and realistic concern that the proposed course of action will merely lead to a worsening of flooding on the remaining public pitches and potentially beyond the site.

 

The Final point relates to the following point made in the description of the proposal:

 

“SCFC area will be leased to the club for 10 years and they will have management and maintenance responsibilities during that time.”

 

TGP have very little information on the terms of the lease, but it is understood that there will be a break clause after 5 years, which means that all of the investment could be completely undone, and any potential benefits (albeit questionable in any case) lost, if SCFC choose to implement the break clause after only 5 years.  This hardly constitutes a long term plan.  This is a major cause for concern.  In addition, TGP are unaware of any documentation that indicates that SCFC will have management and maintenance responsibilities.  We have concerns as to where this information has come from, and whether Sport England has had sight of a draft lease or other document not available to other consultees?

 

Finally, owing to the significance of this proposal and the lack of information, or certainty regarding so many of its elements, we consider that the wording of the suggested conditions by Sport England would be inappropriate, even though the subject matter is relevant (if incomplete).  The wording should reflect a pre-commencement condition.  In this case such conditions are necessary because once the massive investment programme involved in this scheme has been started and large sums of public monies spent, it will be very difficult to stop significant damage in the event of certain of the requirements of Sport England failing to be met.  In particular, the requirements relating to an adequate protection of the 3 training pitches for continued community use is too vague to leave till the development is physically complete, since this may not, and potentially could not, meet Sport England requirements.  In line with the requirements of the Neighbourhood Planning Act, we do not believe that the applicant would have any sound reason to refuse the requirement of pre-commencement conditions.

 

Ecological reports

We note that the habitat survey area is still incompatible with the site boundary.  The surveys, which were limited to two site surveys (including one short dusk survey for bat roosts only), were conducted only for the eastern portion of the site.  Nothing has changed on this matter in the later report, and so the report is still grossly incomplete.  No habitats have been surveyed with regard to the western part of the site, where there is a proposed trim trail and cycle track.  Furthermore, the use of an incorrect site boundary means that certain ponds and bio-diversity sites have been effectively excluded from proper consideration because of distance.  Use of the correct site boundary would bring these features into the scope of requiring survey.  The latest report does not address this in any way.

In particular, with regard to the ecological surveys, once again some of the following issues have been identified previously, but we will deal with the latest information in the context of that provided earlier.

The latest survey states thatwhilst the desk study in our report did not identify the site’s location within the Mersey Valley corridor, the proximity of the site to two Local Nature Reserves (Chorlton Ees and Ivy Green and Broad Ees Dole) and four Sites of Biological Interest (including Chorlton Ees and Broad Ees Dole was acknowledged. Due to 1) the distance of the designated sites from the Site (over 0.25 km), 2) the low value habitats on Site, and 3) the absence of connecting habitat between the designated sites and the Site, it was anticipated that there would be no negative ecological impacts to the designated sites.”

 

This is troubling on many counts.  Firstly because so much seems to rely on desk study rather than site survey.   Secondly that the desk study did not pick up that the site is in the Mersey Valley Corridor.  Thirdly, that the report merely acknowledged the existence of two local nature reserves and four SBIs without assessing the impact of the proposal on them.  Fourthly, that the reason for not surveying important sites is due to using the wrong site boundary, and thus having incorrect distance values.  Fifthly, that the use of the correct site boundary would have shown the existence of connecting habitat.  

 

The end result is that the consultants have “anticipated” no negative ecological impacts without having carried out any relevant surveys.  This is unacceptable and renders the report unfit for purpose.

 

The latest report goes on to state that “our report acknowledged at paragraph 3.5 that the areas of open, amenity grassland have the potential to provide foraging habitat for waders including lapwing. However, we considered that the suitability of the Site as foraging habitat was reduced due to high levels of disturbance from recreational users and dog walkers.”  Since the site survey was restricted to one day by one person, it is impossible to reach a conclusion about the value of foraging habitat apparently without a shred of practical evidence and based upon mere supposition.

 

The introduction of two “enhanced wildlife areas”, as a result of comments from GMEU (which incidentally do not appear to be publically available), is a rushed response and the choice of area and treatment has no evidential basis whatsoever.  It is clear that no further survey has been carried out to assess the suitability of this response to the site and the wider area.  In an era of “evidence base”, this approach is unacceptable.

 

The report goes on to introduce SUDs and states that “the proposed drainage in the area of the pitches comprises sand slits or stone surrounded perforated pipes which will serve to collect and store water in the same manner as a swale. This design, although based on SUDs principles, does not provide opportunity for biodiversity enhancement. Consideration will be given to opportunities for biodiversity enhancement at the outfall points into the perimeter open drain to the north of the site”.  Firstly, there is nothing in the FRA report to indicate the proposed drainage, so we question where this information comes from?  Secondly, the opportunity for biodiversity enhancement is so vague as to be worthless.

 

If we add other related concerns about the ecological assessment, the picture becomes still more cloudy.

 

At least one pond lies within 10 metres of the application site (Mersey outflow pond beside Hawthorn Lane at the Cemetery end), and yet this has not been included for study (perhaps due to use of the wrong site boundary?).  There is strong anecdotal evidence for the existence of Great Crested Newts at this pond and it needs to be included in the survey.

 

The bat surveys did not cover the interiors of buildings, nor did they include relevant study or survey of the role of lines of trees, or edge cover for foraging purposes.  Given the loss of many trees together with the lopping of others (as yet unidentified), and the potential for loss of a significant number of further trees due to the need to redraw the pitches with full FA standards applied, this is a major omission.

 

The inability of the ecological surveys to use the correct site boundary and its failure to identify the importance to survey the impact of the proposals on significant wildlife and bio-diversity sites, means that it is inherently of little use and cannot be shored up by rushed additional detail which has no evidence base.

 

Finally, the scheme should not be treated as small-scale, which is what the consultants try to argue.  This is a “major project” as defined in the Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2009, and is clearly being treated as such by the LPA.  As such all sensitive sites and pond within 0.5 km should have been assessed.

 

 

 

 

 

Noise and Lighting

 

The noise assessment relies on information about the proposed use of the training pitches by SCFC only.  Consequently the times covered are wrong since they fail to take into account that the intended aim of the applicant is to have further use by UA92 and by community groups that must, of necessity, be outside of these hours – potentially covering all daylight hours.  This needs correcting.  In addition, whilst there is no evidence whatsoever for the anticipated additional use by joggers and cyclists of the trim-trail and cycle track, nevertheless it is the stated aim of the applicant that increased usage will result and therefore associated noise should be included in the survey.

 

The noise report is still based upon the fundamentally flawed transport assessment (see below) and therefore no credibility can be given to its conclusions regarding noise nuisance resulting from traffic issues, which is arguably one of the main sources and a significant area of concern. 

 

With regard to lighting considerations, we note the fact that the lighting proposals for the 3G pitch still relate to the wrong scheme (intended for Salford City Reds – Rugby League team).  Little credibility can be given to a report that is based upon the wrong scheme. What other inaccurate information has this and other consultees been given?

 

Flood Risk

 

We are pleased that the Environment Agency has continued its objection, since it is clear that the Flood Risk Assessment (FRA) is seriously incomplete.  As mentioned previously, the FRA gives no consideration whatsoever to the issue of groundwater flooding, which is clearly the main source of water retention on the site and, in particular on the eastern side of the site.  The report makes only vague general mention of the underlying geological strata which is expected to allow permeation of water.  However, it is patently obvious that it does not do this, and therefore we would expect the FRA to investigate the ground and sub-ground conditions of the area proposed for high-grade grass pitches.  No such survey has been carried out.  In addition, the drainage proposals merely relate to mimicking the existing drainage into peripheral drainage ditches.  There is no evidence base for assuming that this will be acceptable.  What is worse is that the survey and report have taken no consideration of the effects of draining the current water retained on the eastern part of the site into the existing ditches.  There is clearly a great risk of transferring flood conditions from groundwater onto other parts of Turn Moss and to surrounding properties and land.  A full investigation is needed and has not been carried out.

 

We note that the revised FRA still has internal contradiction in terms of plans used in that the plan of the proposed development in Appendix B shows the 3G pitch as having an east-west orientation (which incidentally conflicts with FA guidance) whilst the Drainage Plan in Appendix E shows the pitch and drainage systems based on a north south alignment (which we suspect to be the original scheme in line with FA guidance).  How any reliance on a report that cannot even ensure consistency of plans within itself, and which fails so clearly to meet the national requirements for an FRA (please refer to our earlier response document) is beyond belief.  We support the objection of the Environment Agency and add our concerns about the lack of any survey of groundwater or the existing drainage system to ascertain its ability to meet the needs of draining professional standard football pitches.

 

Finally, we note that if all that is required to provide adequate drainage to professional standard pitches is to mimic the existing system, then this is a very cheap option that should not require the resources of a professional football club to service it.  Other methods of financing the drainage have not been assessed and, as a result, the local community is losing fully publicly accessible pitches to a private entity.  The SCFC connection is clearly not needed to enable the drainage improvements required to bring 7 public pitches back into full community use.

 

Transport Assessment

 

Along with the Design and Access Statement (DAS) and the Supporting Planning Statement (SPS), the failings and weaknesses of which we have already covered, this remains one of the most significantly flawed documents of the whole planning submission.  Insofar as recently submitted supporting documents continue to place reliance on its findings we contend that all documents based on the transport assessment should be ignored as being based on incomplete and/or misleading surveys and inaccurate information.

 

For completeness, we list some of the key fundamental failings and flaws in this document.  On this basis, we submit that this whole document should be withdrawn and re-submitted when it has covered all the necessary considerations using appropriate surveys and other information.

 

The fundamental and critical flaws are as follows:

 

  • The traffic survey was carried out on only one day, for one hour on a January afternoon at 17.00 – 18.00 when it is too dark to take cars onto Turn Moss.  This is completely inadequate and no reliance can be placed on any conclusions based on such a poorly conceived and limited survey.   
  • The TRICS data is based only upon trip generation of 5-a-side pitches.  It make no effort to consider in detail the trips generated by SCFC usage – either in terms of times of peak usage or of uses of the SCFC pitches by other bodies/groups outside of core SCFC times.
  • There has been no survey taken of parking usage in the car park or on the access road, both of which are full to overflowing at peak times.  Vague, unsubstantiated assumptions are all that the report can offer, based upon lack of availability of detailed standards.
  • The report acknowledges that the junction of Turn Moss Road and Edge Lane is a priority controlled junction, yet there is no signage to indicate this status, nor can there be since it is an unadopted road, and the highway authority has no control over this.
  • The report also acknowledges that the visibility at the junction is substandard, yet comes to the totally illogical and unfounded conclusion that it can still cope adequately with increased traffic.  On the basis that the predicted traffic flows associated with the proposals are seriously under-estimated, any further traffic generated at this junction will adversely affect the highway safety at this substandard junction.
  • The transport assessment has not checked the width of the access road to the car park.  The DAS shows this road as being 6.3 metres wide and having two lanes of traffic plus a pedestrian route that is only demarcated by different floor markings.  We would contend that this would be inadequate and hazardous to pedestrian and vehicle safety even as shown.  However, this road is, in fact, only 5.5 metres wide and is therefore, totally inadequate to ensure safe passage to the car park for either cars or pedestrians, who are expected to use the same surface.  Furthermore, it is not possible to widen this road at the junction with Turn Moss Road proper because 5.5 metres is its maximum width, with private properties either side and potentially unsafe junctions with service roads leading to a works unit and a large block of flats joining at this same narrow point.  The Transport Assessment failed to notice any of these matters and even omitted the access to the flats from its assessment of traffic using, and turning onto and off, Turn Moss Road.  A safe access for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles using the proposed development is simply not possible. 

 

Insofar as the Noise assessment and other submitted documents utilise the results of this wholly inadequate and error-ridden report, much of the basic information supplied about this proposed development by consultees and others should be completely disregarded.

 

Green Belt issues

 

We wish to stress the following points that have not been affected by the recent documentation except in the sense that supposed benefits are now even more tenuous. The proposals are clearly inappropriate development in the Green Belt, significantly harmful to its openness, including its visual appearance.  The proposed buildings are inappropriate – the café, irrigation storage tank and SCFC building are structures relating to commercial enterprises and are unrelated to outdoor sport or recreation.  Most of the types of uses proposed for the SCFC building were acknowledged as inappropriate by the applicant in a recent retrospective application for buildings with similar uses at Carrington Training Ground.  Other elements, such as the 3G pitch, play area, car park extension, fencing, trim-trail, cycle track, training mounds etc are building/engineering operations that are harmful to openness.

 

The harm is confirmed by the NPPF and can be summarised as:

 

  • Harm to openness by virtue of inappropriateness and the scale of buildings and structures on land that is currently open and undeveloped.
  • Harm to the visual appearance by virtue of:  the proposed fencing; the complete visual block created by the proposed 3G pitch, which would totally obscure the most significant view across Turn Moss from the site entrance; the construction of a surfaced trim trail with exercise points around the western perimeter; the construction of a separate cycle track (we presume that cyclists will not be expected to use the same narrow track as joggers for safety reasons); the erection of lighting columns around the 3G pitch and along the access road; and loss of trees, including loss that will open up views of a two-storey training facility building.
  • Harm caused by enclosure of what is currently open public space, and the encroachment of urban-type buildings and features into an open rural area and river valley location.

 

Other harm includes:

 

  • In the absence of evidence to the contrary, harm caused by increased flood risk both on the site and outside of the site
  • Increased traffic with harm to highway safety and noise nuisance impacts to local residents and other users
  • Harm to the protected landscape character by way of new buildings and structures, sense of enclosure, and an increase in light pollution.
  • Net loss of 8 publically accessible and bookable natural grass football pitches
  • Harm to wildlife and biodiversity
  • Loss of or damage to trees, the scale of which will inevitably be greater than that identified in the current arboricultural survey due to incomplete pitch specifications. 
  • Loss of on-site storage space which will either necessitate external storage or increased use of the road, probably by large vehicles, to bring in and take away sports and maintenance equipment.

 

Supposed benefits include:

 

  • Improved changing rooms – this involves internal alterations only which although welcome do not increase overall space and are not on a sufficient scale to require an enabling development such as the creation of a professional football club training facility.
  • Improved drainage – no evidence has been presented to indicate that this issue could not be relatively easily dealt with by way of improved maintenance and management of what is existing, particularly as what is proposed is to mimic the existing.  Again it does not need the involvement of a professional football club to achieve this.  
  • Pitch improvements on the western part of the site – in the absence of a full FRA to deal with the issue of groundwater, it is highly possible that the greater intensity of use proposed for the site as a whole could lead to worse drainage conditions in this area.  Moreover, there is no commitment anywhere in the documentation to specific improvements for these pitches
  • Use of a café – This is a commercial enterprise for which there is no business plan, nor any supporting evidence for demand.  Furthermore it is still shown on some plans as being a football club facility and therefore of limited benefit to the general public.
  • Play area – this is an urban type use, as is the café, that has no place in a rural setting and merely duplicates facilities in the nearby Longford Park
  • Trim trail – this is more suited to an urban park and the trim-trail in the nearby Longford Park could be regenerated at a fraction of the cost
  • Cycle track – this will presumably have to be separate from the trim-trail – it is inconceivable that a 1.8 metre wide trim trail will also be able to accommodate cyclists, both in terms of surfacing and safety.  Long-range cycle paths exist along the Mersey Valley and there is no need for a short track around part of Turn Moss that leads nowhere.  The only possible length of cycle rack that would be of any practical use would be to link the car park directly with Hawthorn Lane.
  • Community benefits – these are supposedly benefits arising from a relationship between the Council and a professional football club.  The Council already has an Activity Living Manager in place covering the north of the Borough and links with health and welfare are, therefore, not dependent upon the involvement of SCFC.  Longford Park already offers a wide range of health, sports and recreational activities.  What SCFC could offer is minimal.
  • Community use of SCC pitches – this would presumably only be outside of SCFC hours when the football club is not requiring them.  Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the limited scale of community use could in any way make up for loss of 7 public pitches.
  • 3G pitch – this would be useful, but it is in the wrong place and will be expensive for hire by local people and groups.  Furthermore it is clear that it will also be available for SCFC to hire and also UA92 (should it materialise), reducing its potential usefulness to the community.  In addition, to achieve FA recognition, the pitch will need to be constructed to a larger scale and with additional fencing and separate access to changing rooms.  

 

We contend that the supposed benefits submitted by the applicant are minimal and vague and in no way clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt.  There are no very special circumstances sufficient to clearly outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and all other harm.  Some of the issues would become clearer if the terms and nature of the proposed relationship between the Council and SCFC were made public, including the terms of the proposed lease - in order to be able to properly judge the amount of land involved, arrangements for public access, the times of use allowable, the length of the lease, maintenance and management arrangements, and the financial arrangements (in order to assess viability).

 

 

Conclusions

 

The latest documents to be published relating to this application do nothing to deal with the fundamental concerns over its nature.  This is very evidently a rushed and inadequately thought out scheme that cannot be approved without a complete rethink and re-submission of key documents.  Currently it is riddled with inconsistencies, inaccuracies and omissions that cannot be corrected by simply adding largely irrelevant pieces of information in the forlorn hope of making a scheme that is fundamentally flawed marginally less so.

Our conclusions from the earlier response hold true, whilst our concerns about the incoherent nature of the proposals have merely been strengthened by the inability of supporting documents to deal with fundamental issues.  In addition to the points raised above, we would re-iterate key comments from our earlier submission and emphasise the following:

 

  • Rightly or wrongly this application gives a distinct impression of a scheme that has been hurriedly put together with no coherence and little by way of an underlying supportive evidence base.  Furthermore, statements put out in the public realm by the applicant gives the impression that an unacceptably tight time schedule has been anticipated and this has put the LPA in a difficult position. In order to retain its impartial and planning-led consideration of this complex and questionable scheme, the LPA must resist any attempt by the applicant to expect a fully reasoned and rational decision in a time frame that does not allow for full examination of all the evidence.  We believe that the LPA should ask the applicant to withdraw the application or at least defer it indefinitely until all necessary consistent and accurate information and comment is available, and that sufficient time to assess this is allowed.  In the event of the applicant refusing to do this, the application must inevitably be recommended for refusal or recommended for referral to the Secretary of State. 
  • It would appear from their responses that some consultees have been party to information not in the public realm.  Bearing in mind that most consultees, including those appointed separately by Zerum Consult, have clearly been given outdated or incorrect information and plans to work with, the result is a shambolic mish-mash of largely useless comment.
  • The Council has shown complete lack of planning and forethought with this application.  In particular, it failed to acknowledge the unadopted status of Turn Moss Road and its implications for access.  As a result, formal notification of the proposal was not given to the owners of the road until well into the planning process.  This is unacceptable.  In addition, the ability to create a safe access for pedestrians and vehicles is ruled out by the nature and scale of Turn Moss Road.  We would expect better from any applicant, but especially a Local Council.
  • There has been no viability study presented for what is a very complex scheme that may well not be possible in the form proposed.  With any third party applicant, the LPA might expect such a study.  It is now normal with residential applications for an LPA to formally assess the viability of the scheme before making its recommendation.  Without a viability study or business plan provided by the applicant there is insufficient evidence to make a decision on the commercial elements of the scheme, which underpin the whole of the Council’s case.  Release of the terms of the proposed lease to SCFC is essential in the absence of a viability study or business plan.

 

Finally, we cannot leave this issue without one further mention of fences.  

 

  • The fence enclosing the 3G pitch is now clear – although the exact dimensions of the pitch in order to meet FA requirements has yet to be shown.  Unfortunately, in order to get FA certification there will need to be a separately fenced off access from the changing rooms to the pitch across the car park.  This is not, as yet, shown, but will represent additional enclosure in the Green Belt.  
  • Information put out about the proposed fencing along the western side of the proposed SCFC training area is contradictory to the point of farce.  The position and extent of this fencing is shown differently on different plans but always shown as indicative and never as extending to the site boundary!  Submitted documentation indicates that this fence, which does not extend to the boundary and is only 1.5 metres high, is necessary to keep footballs etc within the playing area?  A document provided at a public presentation, given by the applicant to explain the proposal, noted that the fence (partial and only 1.5 metres high) was to stop dogs fouling the pitches?  A representative of SCFC noted that there would be gates in the fence (which does not extend to the boundaries) to allow the public and their dogs into the facility at appropriate times? Sport England and the FA appear to labour under the illusion that there will be fencing to the boundary and that the site will be enclosed to a height of 2 metres to prevent vandalism (with the FA requiring a condition to this effect).  The original description of the proposal on the application form referred to “enclosed” pitches and the landscaping plans for the area around the car park clearly show fences around the SCFC pitches.  This, we believe, reflects the original and ultimate objective to have an enclosed area for training pitches.

 

What appears to be the case here, based upon the conflicting evidence and the examples of other professional football clubs with training facilities, is that the training facility will have to be fenced off completely at some time in the near future, with a 2 metre high fence to prevent vandalism and public/dog intrusion.  This will be necessary to protect the high quality of the pitches.  We would respectfully submit that the issue of fencing is raised with the applicant to ascertain the full nature of proposed fencing in the forseeable future, since the fence proposals as currently submitted are frankly ludicrous and incredible, and do not give a true representation of what is the inevitable ultimate impact of the scheme on the openness of the Green Belt – ie. a fully enclosed professional football club training facility.