COVENTRY City Football Club has called on the government to suspend any decision over Wasps’ planning application to move into the Sky Blues’ ‘lifeblood’ youth academy home until all-party talks take place.
Coventry City Council’s planning committee voted on August 4 it was ‘minded’ to approve Wasps’ training centre at the purpose-built football club’s academy home at the Alan Higgs Centre, operated by the Coventry Sports Foundation, where CCFC’s lease will expire next June.
Councillors voted they were minded to approve should the government not intervene over concerns including that the land is in the Green belt, and pending a resolution of the concerns of governing body Sport England about the potential impact on CCFC’s prized Category 2 status academy.
We revealed last week the Football League, following the Football Association, share those concerns and have agreed to the football club’s call to be involved in multi-party talks with Wasps, CSF and Sport England.
The club, in a statement now published on its website, said it was seeking to schedule those crunch talks over the academy’s future for mid-September.
It also released a letter it has sent to government – specifically the government’s National Planning Casework Unit (NCPU) in Birmingham – which calls for it to suspend any decision on whether the government should formally intervene in the process until Sport England’s concerns have been resolved.
Councillors voted the entire matter should go back to the planning committee should statutory consultee Sport England’s concerns not be resolved.
If the government intervenes by ‘calling in’ the planning application, the entire controversial decision could be taken out of the council’s hands and potentially be subjected to government ordered planning inquiry.
CCFC’s letter states: “Following the (council’s) approval of the (council) officer’s recommendation, CCFC contacted Sport England and Coventry City Council to confirm that the football club is committed to taking part in discussions with the applicants, Coventry City Council, Sport England and the owners of the Alan Higgs Centre (Coventry Sports Foundation) to discuss the potential for the co-location of Wasps RFC (the applicants) and CCFC in accordance with the advice of Sport England and a meeting is being arranged for mid- September to commence the discussions.
“Both the Football Association (FA) and the English Football League (EFL) are duly concerned and have equally committed to also attend these critical talks.
“Until the discussions have taken place to enable all parties to identify the extent to which the co-location of the Centre by Wasps RFC and CCFC can either be accommodated or else would involve the displacement of facilities presently used by the football academy, the concerns raised by Sport England cannot be resolved.
“As the application involves an important policy issue in which Sport England has raised concerns, we would ask that no decision be taken by the Secretary of State on whether or not to call-in the application until Sport England has concluded on the outstanding concerns.
“This would not delay the decision-making process since the Planning Committee’s resolution confirms that no decision can be taken until Sport England’s concerns have been resolved.”
Sport England’s policies relate to the loss of playing fields and whether that would be outweighed by new sporting facilities created by a planned development.
The Coventry Observer’s Save Our City campaign is calling for the retention in Coventry of the 133-year-old club’s category 2 status youth academy, for which it receives £650,000 annual funding and which develops city youngsters and stars of the future such as Callum Wilson and James Maddison.