February the 7th, 2012
I am writing to you to highlight some of my very real concerns which are shared by many residents in the locality of the proposed sports development intended for the exclusive use of the members of the Rotherham Rugby Club on Herringthorpe playing fields.
I hope that you will be able to ensure that these issues are taken fully into account during the planning approval process.
Although there have already been many objections to the proposal, many residents feel their views are overshadowed by the weight of the council’s support for development of the fields. They are frustrated by the emphasis attached to this being a development for the “youth” of Rotherham which has the adverse effect of legitimate objections being perceived as small minded and selfish. The development will equally serve the current professional Titans team but is not freely available to all rugby teams/clubs in Rotherham.
Resident’s views and objections demonstrate a genuine example of local democracy at work and not simply an inconvenience or obstacle for those who wish the development go ahead.
There has never been any doubt that the Club’s drive and aim to promote amateur and community rugby in Rotherham is an extremely positive and worthwhile cause and is widely supported. That’s not the only issue here.
What is not supported is the principle of sectioning off of almost a sizable section of the Herringthorpe Playing Fields for limited and exclusive Rugby Club use on an almost industrial scale, available 7 days a week until 9.30 each night. I believe that there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that parts of Policy CR1.1 of your Unitary Development Plan will not be met.
Policy ENV5 Urban Spaces is quoted in support of the application. I would argue to the contrary. It states that “The Council will seek to retain and enhance open space which is of importance from a recreation, conservation and amenity point of view, but which is not afforded Green Belt protection. Its development will only be allowed in exceptional circumstances.” I think the key here is “retain and enhance open space”, dividing it up it up and fencing it off doesn’t do this. Furthermore I would argue that, although this is a commendable plan, it by no means represents “exceptional circumstances”. In any event the space is still available for use whether there’s a fence or not.
National planning law clearly states that it should not favour opportunities which serve to restrict access to open spaces by fencing them in, nor should they favour applications which meet the needs of discrete areas of sports communities over other. i.e. rugby over football, jogging, walking. It is not acceptable to say these people can simply move to other pitches.
The Club’s overall aim of creating a “disciplined and respectful framework” is not reliant upon fencing off and illuminating pitches to exclude the large number of people who have regularly used the proposed site (and still do) for their chosen sport, recreation and enjoyment.
Herringthorpe playing fields were left in perpetuity for the enjoyment of all. This development raises serious question about excluding a significant proportion of the community from that covenant and will also infringe free access/rights of way to the field. I do not believe that such a change would be lawful. Indeed, guidance from the “Open Spaces Society” would seem to support this and it may be necessary to prove the case in court.
The Officer’s recommendation contained in the report to members dated 23/3/2011, relating to the granting of a lease, include a caveat with specific reference to the “justification of the loss of an area of open space” and an associated requirement for expert legal advice to be financed by the Club. It would seem reasonable to assume that the granting of a lease is fundamental to this process and, if legal advice has been sought, then given the advancement in the proposal, this legal opinion would presumably support the leasing proposal, and be in the public domain. However, if legal advice has not been sought, then I can only assume that the council would wish to be forthcoming in clarifying the decision process by giving an explanation of their reasons to negate the necessity for legal clarification on an issue which causes such concern to many people.
The consultation has been poor. RMBC facilitated an official consultation meeting at the Town Hall in June 2011. The immediate neighbours of the site were not informed of this meeting. You failed to publicise this meeting in the consultation flyer which was distributed a day prior to that meeting. It seems that it was advertised in a local paper but most residents don’t receive this and consequently were unable to attend. The advert also listed the wrong time for the meeting. It is possible that this was just a failure in communication planning, but it is seen by many local residents as a deliberate attempt to exclude those local residents most affected from the consultation process The Rugby Club members were fully informed and represented.
Scrutiny of the proposals contained in the planning application which attempt to mitigate the key issues are minimal, unrealistic, impractical and unenforceable. The development and intended high level of use are intrusive in terms of noise, parking, increased traffic, litter, light pollution, scale and position. Although The Club is not directly connected to the Titans, the cumulative effect of yet more intensive training and competitive matches (together with existing football requirements) is not appropriate given the existing facilities and locality.
Take for example parking. Players and their parents are already aware of the parking facilities at the Stadium but do not want to use these. Naturally they prefer to park as near to the pitch as possible. The current situation is that it is frequently impossible for Badsley Street South residents to park outside their own home when coming home from work when the juniors are training. Suggesting that parents and players park right at the other side of the field in the Stadium or at the Clubhouse doesn’t work now. Reminding club members of this request not a “parking plan” or mitigation for what is currently a very real problem which can and will only get worse with the increased usage.
National planning guidance details considerations for parking in terms of proximity, practicality and ratios. This is to safeguard any adverse impact on residents. In order to ensure that the application conforms to this guidance, the outcome of each of these considerations should be documented so that the Council can demonstrate that they have followed the guidance.
The suggestion that boys and girls cycle to the pitch, including when it is dark in the winter, may tick a green box but is frankly impractical. Of course public transport is available but some would have to catch two buses. I ought to catch the bus to work but I don’t and neither will members catch a bus to Herringthorpe and back when they are tired after a vigorous training session and carrying wet/muddy rugby kit.
The tooting of horns, noise arriving and leaving the area, and prolonged general noise whilst training all have an impact on local residents, as does the litter of discarded energy drinks bottles, snack wrappers, and chip papers from spectators. Provision should be required from the Club to be responsible for the clearing of their litter from the local environment.
Concerns regarding cars on the field disrupting training are mitigated by the erection of the perimeter fence some years ago. A fence surrounding te pitches however will not prevent vandals form throwing bottles and bricks. The broken bottles/glass issues are concentrated at the perimeter of the field and also represent a hazard for all users including resident’s pets. The erecting of a fence will not resolve this problem and the addition of lighting will serve to improve the area currently frequented by anti-social youths at the hedgerow at the rear of the Garage on Badsley Street South. The majority of dog walkers are responsible and practice poop-er scooping, there are sufficient bins provided for this purpose. It is recommended that the Green Space Rangers implement existing bylaws to tackle offender who don’t. This would address the root problem not the symptom and would benefit the entire field users community, otherwise the problem would simply be concentrated on the remainder of the field.
Players currently use the hedgerow and trees adjacent to Badsley Street South as a toilet facility. Clearly there is option of the club house facility but the current teams which train here don’t use these. The Club are currently unable to ensure that the players have the basic consideration to go as far as the clubhouse to use the facilities, this doesn’t bode well for the new development providing an entirely “disciplined and respectful framework”. There are no proposals to meet this need and the problem is sure to increase.
The existing problems created by the current usage are already beginning to have a significant impact on the local residents and take its toll on their wellbeing and quality of life.
It has been suggested that residents are confusing the issues with the problems from Titan’s match days when a deluge of fans descend. This is not so, it’s understood that that’s match days are a not a Club issue but nevertheless still a rugby issue. On the Clubs night training session I can never park near my own home and if I’m at home, I dare not go out for a short time as I know I’ll be unable to park on my return if match of training session is in progress. Lots of figures regarding parking availability have been quoted but if these were indeed accurate then there would be a problem now. This situation can only get worse.
Why would anyone support a proposal which favours some sections of the community at the expense of other people, young and old, who have the same rights to use pitches and rights of way on the field they have used for many years? Why can’t it be unfenced and shared? What’s needed is an overall improvement of the quality of the field for all.
The local community has always been happy to accept many temporary inconveniences and nuisance in the name of community fairs, sports, rallies etc. on our door steps, but the proposed extended level of nuisance really is a bridge too far.