CALLS are being stepped up for Coventry councillors to reject Wasps’ plans to move into the Sky Blues’ lifeblood youth academy home – as it emerged sports’ governing body Sport England has been deprived of information it needs to advise Thursday’s planning committee.
Two Sky Blues’ fans groups, the Supporters Consultative Group and Sky Blue Trust, have this week formally called on councillors to reject Wasps’ planning application.
It is understood the Football Association (the FA) has also been deprived of the information it needs to form a judgement.
As we have reported, Coventry City Council planning officers are recommending that up to 11 councillors on the planning committee approve Wasps’ application to build a training centre at Sky Blues’ purpose-built academy at the Alan Higgs Centre in Allard Way.
Sport England’s view is important given it is a statutory consultee.
One planning consultant we spoke with said Coventry City Council could leave itself further open to later appeals and government intervention if it does not fully consider Sport England’s representations.
The Coventry Observer’s Save Our City campaign has written to councillors to urge a decision be postponed if Sport England continues to be deprived of the information it needs – from the applicant or the centre’s operators Coventry Sport Foundation (CSF) – to assess whether a Coventry City academy could still be accommodated on site or off site in Coventry. That is, with or without the current crucial Category 2 status for which the club receives £650,000 annual funding.
We have also raised with councillors apparent contradictions in how planning officer Kurt Russell is advising that the potential displacement of the CCFC’s youth academy is not a ‘material planning consideration’ – and should therefore not be taken into account by councillors.
As we pointed out on our website on Saturday, his agenda document make central arguments about the economic and sporting benefits of Wasps’ proposed training centre and its wider presence in the city.
Yet he dismisses as not relevant the economic and sporting benefits provided by the Sky Blues youth academy and the 133-year-old Coventry City Football Club, which would be further distressed.
Our article on Saturday also pointed to an email Mr Russell wrote to Wasps’ consultants Oxalis Planning on June 6 – disclosed to us following a Freedom of Information request.
In it, he called for more information on how existing football facilities could remain either on site or off site, to ‘help’ council planning officers ‘justify’ the proposal to the councillors.
He also noted in that email that he had received formal objections concerning the displacement of CCFC’s academy after Wasps’ planning application had failed to make any reference to the impact on the football club’s facilities.
We have called on councillors to question on Thursday why Mr Russell wrote that email if the potential displacement of Coventry City’s academy is genuinely not a ‘material planning consideration’ – which government and other guidance states courts have ruled can include wide considerations which are ‘in the public interest’.
We have also shown how losing the Sky Blues’ academy appears to contradict the council’s own policy, the Coventry Sports Strategy (2014-2014).
Our campaign is calling on Coventry City Council and the city’s sports providers including CSF to ensure future provision in Coventry of a Category 2 elite youth academy – which produces future stars and provides a link between the city’s traditional football club and future generations of city youngsters.
Following the Ricoh Arena sale to Wasps in 2014, we share the club and many fans’ view that it appears the club is being frozen out of Coventry following a three-pronged legal dispute between the council, the Higgs charity and the club’s owners over Ricoh rent, revenues and ownership.
In a letter to council planners, Sport England planning manager James Morris, states: “Sport England are aware of, but have not been involved in, the ongoing discussions regarding the lease at the Alan Higgs Centre and other issues between various parties including the Coventry Sports Foundation, Coventry City FC Academy and Wasps RFC.
“…Sport England’s Statutory Consultation response will focus on the information submitted as part of this planning application and not leasehold or other issues between interested parties.
“… From the information submitted in support of this application it is not clear how the proposal would impact the delivery of sport in Coventry.
“It is considered that the potential for the co-location of Wasps RFC and Coventry City FC needs to be further investigated by the parties involved in order to determine what activity could take place at the Alan Higgs Centre and determine what, if any, sporting activity would be displaced should the proposal be implemented.
“This information would then help to inform whether or not alternative sites would be required to maintain the sporting activity currently taking place at the Alan Higgs Centre and would also help to determine the impact on any displaced sporting activity.
“Unfortunately insufficient information has been submitted in support of this application to enable Sport England to adequately assess the proposal against Exception E5 (a policy regarding the loss of sports facilities) or to make further comment.”
As we have reported, the football club has requested a written proposal from CSF, if it has one, to retain the academy’s category 2 facilities ahead of any negotiations. In turn, CSF has called for a meeting and said CCFC managing director Chris Anderson failed to attend a recent one.
* To read the emails, including Mr Russell’s June 6 email, disclosed to us following our Freedom of Information request, follow the links here …