Yeovil Town Chairman John Fry believes that the football club's Planning Application for new community pitches at Thorne Lane were specifically set out to satisfy SSDC's 'sports and well-being strategies' for the wider area. The Glovers planning application was heard by the SSDC Area South Planning Committee last Wednesday but was thrown out in a two hour hearing. Whilst the specific written reasons have yet to be published, the general vibe was that concerns over road safety and the accessibility of the Lufton site were part of those noted by the six Councillors who had opposed the plans.
Fry has suggested to the Western Gazette that the club's plans were in place to help another part of SSDC that deals with the general health and well-being of the local area, which encourages the availability and participation in sports and sporting facilities in the area. The Glovers Chairman states that this had been part of their plans:
"Our Lufton Community Sports resource with that of the provision of the Huish Park Community Sports Stand, was to be Yeovil Town Football Club's contribution towards helping South Somerset District Council deliver its sports and well-being strategies for the Yeovil and district sports community. I am therefore very disappointed for our community sports partners, at SSDC's planning committee's decision to refuse approval for the Lufton development."
The club's planning application did not reference any intention to link in with SSDC's Community Health and Leisure (which represents health and well-being) department strategy, with the submission of the plans to the Council indicating that they were ultimately to satisfy the replacement of pitches on the Huish Park site. The main Introduction to the club's planning application explains the background to the Planning Application. The club's document they submitted stated:
"The proposals come out of a recent exercise undertaken by the football club in relation to assets and viability at the Huish Park Stadium. Currently, there is some open space at the stadium site that was (when the club moved there and the ground was further developed in the 1990's) intended for the provision and development of formal pitch areas. A closer look at those aspirations when moving the stadium shows that they could not fully be provided at the stadium site and are likely to be detrimental to the club in terms of operation, aims, aspirations and viability. The conclusion is that such facilities should be focused at a purpose built site that can be incorporated for community use within the facilities available across South Somerset."
As a response to the club's Planning Application, Steve Joel, who is the SSDC Assistant Director for Health and Well-Being, responded to the Planning Application in August 2015 with a series of objections to the Application, saying that his department could not support it. One of the key areas had been that the management of the new recreational facilities was not clear and said that his department had not received a proposal and so was oppositing the plan:
"No specific proposal has been submitted to enable CHL (SSDC's Community Health and Leisure) to determine if this test (regarding the management of the recreational facilities) has been met. CHL would expect to see YTFC set out the current arrangements and the detailed ownership and legal structure, articles, membership, availability, programming, charging, maintenance, and financing arrangements for the new proposal. CHL is concerned that the land may only be available from the current landowner 'in the short term'. To satisfy the test the replacement provision must be available on at least equivalent or better terms than the playing fields it is intended to replace at Huish Park. As such the proposal fails to demonstrate that equivalent or better management arrangements will be in place."
A later submission by the club identified Yeovil Town Community Sports Trust as the body who would act as the management organisation for the new facilities, and so may have resolved some of the issues raised by SSDC CHL. However, the SSDC Case Officer's report noted that SSDC CHL's position still hadn't changed as they had not provided a further response to those revised proposals. The Planning Report said: "On the basis that the replacement offer is not of equivalent or better standard there is no support for the proposal. CHL consulted on amended plans/additional information in April and July 2016 but no further comments received."
John Fry's statement also refers to "the provision of the Huish Park Community Sports Stand", implying that the construction of the new stand at the away end of Huish Park had been affected by the Council's decision. Whilst there may be a domino effect from last Wednesday's decision, it's worth noting that the new Stand at Huish Park was not part of the plan that was submitted to SSDC - that forms part of an entirely independent planning application.
Fry has told the paper that he hopes that that the club's Planning Agent David Bell will be able to view the written Reasons for Refusal by the end of this week, and that will help shape the future direction of the club's strategy for developing facilities at Huish Park and other associated areas:
"This is not good news for the future of the Club's Community plans. As a private business we have not been asking for public money, but approval for a change of use of land so that better resources can be provided for our staff, our players, our customers and the local sports community. As soon as our planning agent, David Bell, has been given the reasons by SSDC for the refusal of our community sports planning application, he will recommend to my directors the way forward. Hopefully this will be done by the end of this week."
There is no mention of the main Huish Park planning application, and how Mr Fry sees that as moving forward in the future. The Huish Park application has been effectively dormant since September 2015, with the club requesting Extensions Of Time on a rolling basis every three months to keep the application alive, pending their response to a series of questions and observations raised by SSDC at that time.
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