THE Campaign to Save Coventry Speedway and Stox has been given a double boost in the space of less than a week.
Rugby Borough Council announced yesterday (May 7) that their Local Plan had been given the green light by the Government Inspector, and this follows a referendum on the Brandon and Bretford Neighbourhood Plan last Thursday (May 2).
Crucially, the Inspector’s final report into the Rugby Local Plan will lead to a significant amendment which will further protect Brandon Stadium against development.
We are delighted to report that the Government Inspector recognised the importance of Brandon Stadium for both speedway and stock car racing, and that the lack of protection against the loss of sports facilities made the Local Plan initially ‘unsound’ requiring an amendment to be made.
The Inspector stated that there was a key omission in Policy HS4, referring to “the absence of any protection against the existing built sports facilities, which is necessary to ensure provision in the borough is not diminished over time.
“Paragraph 74 of the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) expects that existing open space, sports and recreational buildings and land should not be built on unless they are surplus to requirements, or would be replaced elsewhere by equivalent provision or by alternative sports and recreational provision.
“Policy HS4 as submitted includes these provisions for open space but not for built sports and recreational facilities.”
The Inspector then refers directly to Brandon Stadium and concludes that changes to the wording of Policy HS4 are required in order to be consistent with national policy for sports and recreational buildings in general.
He says: “Although many sports facilities are in public ownership, some are privately owned and therefore vulnerable to closure and redevelopment for alternative uses.
“I heard evidence at the hearings about the proposals for the residential redevelopment of the Brandon or Coventry Stadium, which was until recently in active use for speedway and stock car racing.
“The Plan would not be unsound without a specific policy to protect or allocate the stadium.
“However, the absence of a policy to safeguard existing sports and recreational buildings generally in the borough from being built on unless surplus to requirements or replaced elsewhere, in line with paragraph 74 of the NPPF, does render the Plan unsound.”
The Inspector has confirmed the revised wording published by RBC as draft modifications. For completeness, the relevant changes made to Policy HS4 of the plan are as follows, shown in bold and underlined:
Policy HS4: Open space, sports facilities and recreation
C. Public open space, sports and recreational buildings and land, including playing fields (REMOVED: assets identified) within the Open Space Audit evidence and/or defined on the (REMOVED: Proposals) Policies Map and/or last in sporting or recreational use (REMOVED: will be protected from development) should not be built upon unless:
• An assessment has been undertaken which has clearly shown the open space, building or land to be surplus to requirements; or
• it can be demonstrated that 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.
The Inspectors’ Report recognises the case made by the Campaign Group at the Public Examination held last year and the time and effort taken.
It marks a significant milestone and should now allow the Campaign to move on as well as enabling the Council to consider – and hopefully reject – Brandon Estates’ planning application for housing redevelopment on the stadium site.
We currently await the report of the Independent Consultant appointed by Rugby Council to assess discrepancies between the planning documentation and the material provided by ourselves.
But this is perhaps an appropriate time to review the weight of evidence which is now stacked AGAINST the speculative Planning Application:
*Changes to the Rugby Local Plan instigated by a Government Inspector, who conducted his own site visit, resulting in the fact that the Plan now offers protection to existing sporting facilities where there is clear ongoing need.
*The Brandon and Bretford Parish Neighbourhood Plan, which was adopted at last week’s referendum, which clearly states that it is the wish of the community for the Brandon Stadium site to remain as a sports venue.
*A submission from 11 MPs/Lords, including four from the local area, urging Rugby Council to reject the Planning Application and support efforts to bring the sports back. This letter was drafted by MP for Rugby Mark Pawsey and other local MPs to sign were Colleen Fletcher, Jim Cunningham and Marcus Jones.
*Public consultation to the Planning Application resulted in an unprecedented response of over 1,800 letters and e-mails, all but seven of which called for the rejection of the planning application.
*The response included submissions from speedway riders and stock car drivers past and present, including World Champions, locally, nationally and internationally – as well as from the vast majority of local residents who view the iconic stadium as a much-loved local facility.
*A local newspaper poll in mid-2018 resulted in 96% of over 2,000 votes supporting the return of the sports to Brandon – fully endorsing the public consultation.
*Official bodies of both sports, including the BSPA, SCB, ACU, BriSCA and the BSCDA have all voiced their opposition to the plans.
*These comments were noted by Sport England, who raised a number of concerns with the applicant’s Viability Statement.
*The Campaign Group have made several significant submissions in response to planning material, highlighting with evidence an astounding number of errors, inaccuracies and untruths.
*Planning consultants Framptons have already been forced to withdraw a section of their Needs Assessment under threat of action from the former site owners as their account of the events of 2016 was found to be unsatisfactory.
Two-and-a-half years after speedway and stock cars were ejected from the stadium, with no serious consideration given to their future, the determination to see them return is stronger than ever.
The latest developments in the Rugby Local Plan and the Neighbourhood Plan add further weight towards the need for the rightful outcome to be reached in the speediest possible time.
As to what happens next, we believe that once the Independent Consultant’s report is received, it will enable the senior Planning Officer Erica Buchanan to complete her own report and recommendation for consideration by the Planning Committee. Though we have not had confirmation, we would reasonably expect that to take place in June or July of this year.