A conservationist’s view

Improved sporting facilities for the whole community; rugby and football clubs playing to a packed new stadium and steadily climbing the rankings; new jobs and all-round prosperity enveloping the town; all delivered whilst protecting the countryside and avoiding gridlock. To anyone without rose-tinted spectacles this always seemed too good to be true, and from the off, amenity groups and planning professionals questioned the assumptions and practicalities. But on the undeterred dreamers pressed, with cries of NIMBY and accusations of political interference, surreptitiously slipping a bit of supportive wording into what was intended as a mere refresh of the Community Plan, and into an amateurish Sports Facilities Strategy derived mainly from asking sports clubs if they would like better facilities.

So we reached autumn’s consultation Raising our Game, still downplaying the downside with technical phrases like enabling development and weasel words like ‘we will aim to minimise the impact of traffic’, and totally bypassing the key question of whether a new stadium is actually needed, justified or wanted.

But fortunately, the ranks of those who can see beyond the spin and self-deception grow by the day, with conscientious councillors scrutinising and quizzing, the real WWFC fan base calmly setting out how this genuine community club is being trampled on by London-and-Abu-Dhabi Wasps, and newly-activist ‘solid citizens’ protesting and researching.

And as further information on the realities of the project trickles out, aided by the professional planners still determined to do the right thing despite difficult circumstances, the case gets relentlessly weaker: the adverse impacts more stark, the alleged benefits more tenuous.

  • national Green Belt policy brushed away as an inconvenience;
  • a settlement of several hundred houses stuck on an isolated windy hillside, alongside a stadium only half-filled for matches, but staging regular disruptive non-sporting events to try to make ends meet;
  • all this built development visible for miles;
  • the initial wish-list of accompanying sporting facilities now severely-diminished due to site size constraints, and some of these merely relocated from locations closer to where users live;
  • a potential new access road cutting across more than a mile of precious Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty;
  • skilled jobs at the airpark threatened, in exchange for a smaller number of hospitality and service roles and some crumbs of passing trade as spectators pay their fleeting visit to our District.

When will common sense prevail, and allow attention to be turned to projects of real benefit to our District and our residents? It cannot come soon enough.

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