ON September 6 Rugby Council issued the agenda for the Planning Committee meeting scheduled for September 14. The agenda included the Officerâ€™s Report related to Brandon Stadium and the application to demolish it to build a housing estate.
The Report, to our astonishment, recommended approval of the application.
The meeting was postponed following the passing of the Queen and the Report was hastily removed from the public domain, but not before Save Coventry Speedway & Stox Campaign Group (SCS) had downloaded a copy.
Prior to seeing this report, SCS prepared a series of Briefing Papers to distribute to Planning Committee Members. These were an attempt to summarise the events of the last six years in order to give them accurate information as opposed to misleading and dishonest material they may have read elsewhere.
These papers covered the following subjects: A brief history and sale of the stadium; The Local Plan; Opposition to redevelopment of the stadium; National Planning Policy Framework; Green Belt Policy; The shameful tactics employed by the applicant; Does Honesty Matter? The alternative application.
Following the publication of the Report, SCS prepared a ninth Paper, this being a Critique of the Officerâ€™s Report. We emailed the 12 most senior officers at RBC to make them aware of the Briefing Papers, in particular Paper No 9, the Critique. We told them we believed the Report was unbalanced to the point of being biased.
Since the Report was written and finalised, the Officer who produced it left Rugby Council and the responsibility for the case was passed to a newly appointed recruit.
We were then aware that the Report, which was due to be heard in September, would not be considered at a future Planning Committee meeting but was instead being re-written.
On Thursday 20th October, after being urged by RBC to do so and having been assured the application was being reviewed with â€˜fresh eyesâ€™, SCS submitted Paper No 9 / Critique to the Officer.
It was very detailed, identifying fundamental flaws in the Report, including documents which had been omitted and key evidence not referred to in any way. It referred to conflicts with both local and national policies which had been overlooked, and how unprecedented levels of opposition at every stage in the process had simply been swept aside.
On the same day (20th October) Sport England also submitted representations which stated their previous comments had been misrepresented by the original Officer and how they believed the application did not comply with a key planning policy. This highly significant document has yet to be uploaded to the planning portal website.
Prior to submitting the Critique, the new Officer agreed to meet SCS. We offered Friday 28th October as a date to meet but on Tuesday 25th October the Officer reneged on that commitment and instead, two days later on 27th October, issued the Revised Report which, despite all the points raised by SCS and Sport England, still recommends approval of the application. It will be taken to committee on Wednesday November 9.
The Report simply addresses various omissions from the original by including them but not addressing any of the issues raised. It dismisses points of policy, completely ignores the near unanimous opposition to the application and the unequivocal stated wishes of the local community as expressed in the Brandon & Bretford Neighbourhood Plan, and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the significance of Brandon Stadium and its contribution to the local area for almost a century. Where there are points the Officer is unable to counter, they are simply ignored and not referred to. Key items from the original Report, to which we had responded to show their deficiencies, have been removed; others remain, with no attempt to explain their obvious failings.
The Report remains totally deficient. It remains unbalanced and biased.
Paper No 9 / The Critique is below. This is our reaction to the original Report. We are currently considering our response to the revised Report.
We donâ€™t believe for one minute that these points have been given due consideration by the Officer and question why that is. We also cannot believe that having only joined RBC and taken on the case a matter of mere weeks ago, the new Officer could possibly have studied all of the paperwork of the past six years to gain a full understanding of the situation. For whatever reason, this Report is being rushed to Committee.
We trust the elected Councillors who constitute the Planning Committee and make the final decision, will study our critique and assess whether the Officer has properly considered the points raised.
One final point. Whilst RBC on 9th November will recommend approval of the planning application, just a few days later on 14th November they are also scheduled to take the applicants, Brandon Estates to court, where they will stand trial for failure to comply with a Community Protection Notice served on them by RBC. We have requested confirmation that this much-delayed trial will indeed go ahead regardless of the outcome of the planning committee meeting.
Planning Application: R18/0186 (revised July 2021)
SAVE COVENTRY SPEEDWAY & STOX â€“ A CRITIQUE OF THE OFFICERâ€™S REPORT
This document has also been sent to Planning Committee Members as â€˜Briefing Paper No9â€™
Eight Briefing Papers have already been sent to Members of the Planning Committee and were intended to provide background information to the Coventry Stadium situation and in particular, a summary of events since the current owners took possession of the stadium. They were prepared prior to the Planning Officerâ€™s report published for the Planning Committee meeting scheduled for 14th September 2022 and recommendation going into the public domain. Copies of these papers have been sent to Rugby Council so they can be added to the documentation relating to the planning application.
This report (and 9th Briefing Paper) has been prepared following publication of the Planning Committee report and makes references to some of the report content.
A reminder of acronyms and other references referred to in this Paper: â€¢ RBC - Rugby Borough Council â€¢ BE â€“ Brandon Estates â€¢ SCS â€“ Save Coventry Speedway & Stox Campaign Group â€¢ Framptons â€“ Brandon Estatesâ€™ Planning Agents for the Local Plan process and original (2018) Application. â€¢ KKP â€“ Consultants Knight, Kavanagh & Page, commissioned by Brandon Estates and authors of the 3G Pitch and Speedway Feasibility studies â€¢ DPP â€“ Brandon Estatesâ€™ Planning Agents for the revised (2021) application â€¢ Officer â€“ The Principle Planning Officer dealing with this application (and the Alternative Application) â€¢ Alternative Application â€“ A separate application submitted by SCS â€¢ NPPF â€“ National Planning Policy Framework
CONTENTS 1. Summary 2. Local Plan 3. Brandon & Bretford Neighbourhood Plan 4. Green Belt Policy 5. NPPF 6. Opposition to the application 7. Comparison of Coventry Stadium to Oxford Stadium 8. What is not in the Officerâ€™s Report â€¢ Documents missing from the Officers Report (not referenced anywhere in the Report) â€¢ Examples of other omissions from the Officerâ€™s Report
1.1. In recommending approval of the planning application the Officer has concocted a report which: a) clearly conflicts with both local and national policies; b) ignores advice from a Government Inspector; c) has effectively condoned a gross misinterpretation of Paragraph 99c of the NPPF; d) dismisses speedway and stock car racing as minority spectator sports, and; e) has swept aside overwhelming and unprecedented opposition from every quarter of society at every stage in the process.
1.2. The Officerâ€™s report is unbalanced to the point of being biased. This is highlighted in several ways:
o The applicant commissioned several â€˜independentâ€™ consultants and presents their findings in the planning application. These consultants are not genuinely independent as they prepare reports to a brief that is to justify a predetermined conclusion required by their paymasters. That is not an unusual situation but the Officer has been all too prepared to accept the content of these reports as fact and reproduces swathes of text from these reports, despite being in possession of compelling evidence setting out the contrary position, of which there is no mention in the report.
o In response to submissions from BE, SCS produced extensive, well researched and presented representations, which were sent to the Officer:
â€¢ 80 page response to the original planning application sent on 28th February 2018 â€¢ 65 page response to the Sports Needs Assessment sent on 6th November 2018 â€¢ 51 page document entitled â€˜Errors and Untruthsâ€™ (in BE documents) sent on 8th January 2019 â€¢ 82 page document in response to the Revised Application sent on 18th August 2021 â€¢ These documents included 66 appendices of evidence in support.
Whilst swathes of text from the various documents submitted by, or on behalf of BE, are reproduced in the Officerâ€™s Report, in contrast there is barely any reference at all to the counter arguments and evidence put forward by SCS.I n addition RBC have only made one of those comprehensive documents available on the Planning Portal, thus failing to provide statutory consultees or any other interested parties, with a balanced view. RBC acceded to a request to place this document on the Portal after SCS raised the issue at a meeting with Executive Director and first line team members on 3rd September 2021, which was long after the consultation period ended.
o A number of documents have been omitted from the Report and not referred to in any way:
â€¢ A letter of objection (dated 6th Aug 2021) from the Chairman of the British Speedway Promoters Ltd. This letter included an offer to meet the Officer but was not responded to.
â€¢ A letter of objection (dated 9th Aug 2021) from the Governing Body of Speedway (Speedway Control Bureau)
â€¢ A letter of objection (dated 10th Aug 2021) from the Governing Body of Stock Car Racing (BriSCA) and the Oval Racing Council International (ORCi).
â€¢ The three omissions referred to above are all the more remarkable given that the initial response from Sport England concluded that the Council should have regard to the comments of the sportsâ€™ governing bodies before reaching a position over whether it considers the proposal would meet NPPF paragraph 99c.
â€¢ A letter of objection (dated 23rd April 2018) jointly signed by 10 Members of Parliament / Members of the House of Lords (copied to Members in Briefing Paper No3).
â€¢ A letter of apology (dated 7th Nov 2018) sent by BE Planning Agents (Framptons) to the previous owner of the site (and copied to the Officer) for falsely claiming an offer had been made to extend their lease beyond the end of 2016, thus enabling motorsports to continue at the venue. The author asked that this letter be copied to statutory consultees. The Officer failed to do this.
â€¢ A letter from Sky Blues in the Community (dated 29th July 2021) which pointed out, despite inferences in the application, that they had not signed any agreement, had had no input into the development of the Business Plan and Programme of Use (for the 3G football pitch) and had not even seen it before it was shown to them by SCS. (A more detailed explanation of this is described in Briefing Paper No7).
o In addition, the Officer, in making the case for approval of the application, makes no reference to key evidence which, if disclosed, would paint an entirely different picture to many statements made by both the applicant and the Officer. Examples of evidence not referred to are outlined on subsequent pages.
o Amongst sections from the application which have been copied and pasted in the Officerâ€™s Report, is a section which claims that due to substantial damage to the stadium since the end of 2016 and the cost of reinstating the stadium, there is no plausible commercial basis upon which Coventry Stadium would now be reopened. For the Officer to accept this argument, when the applicants themselves are wholly responsible for the stadium being absolutely trashed and in full knowledge of the fact they will stand trial in November in a case brought against them by RBC is astonishing.
In accepting this argument, the Officer, and by inference RBC, is condoning this shameful tactic.
1.3. SCS are also very concerned that a separate, alternative application seeking changes to three buildings as part of a masterplan for the reinstatement of the stadium with enhanced facilities for community use, was delayed just prior to it going to Planning Committee by fundamentally â€˜shifting the goalpostsâ€™.
1.4. SCS believe this was a deliberate tactic on the part of RBC Officers in order to ease the passage of the BE application, which if approved, would â€˜kill offâ€™ this separate application. In addition, should the BE application be approved, the most likely outcome regarding the court case, would be that there would be an out of court settlement and it would therefore not proceed.
Whilst SCS understand and support the need to bring this long running saga to a conclusion, concocting a report which â€˜drives a coach and horsesâ€™ through local and national policies, sweeps aside unprecedented opposition, places too much reliance on findings of reports commissioned by the applicant which purport to be independent, omitting vital evidence and effectively condoning the shameful tactics of the applicant, is not the way to achieve that objective. To approve this application would send a very dangerous message to other would-be developers seeking planning approval in the Borough of Rugby.
1.5. Alternative resolution to refuse the planning application
SCS propose the following for consideration by Members
That application R18/0186 be refused on the following grounds:
The proposed demolition of the stadium is contrary to the provisions of Policies HS3: Protection and Provision of Local Shops, Community Facilities and Services and HS4: Open Space, Sports Facilities and Recreation of the Rugby Local Plan, the provisions of the Brandon and Bretford Neighbourhood Plan and Paragraph 99 of the Governmentâ€™s National Planning Policy Framework.
The proposed development would have a significant adverse effect on the Green Belt contrary to the General Principles and Development Strategy set out in the Rugby Local Plan and provisions of the Governmentâ€™s NPPF (Paragraphs 137, 138, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145, 147, 148 and 149).
The provision of housing on the application site would undermine the delivery of housing allocated in accordance with the development strategy outlined in the Rugby Local Plan.
The applicants have sought to improve the chances of a successful outcome not only by evicting the stadium users with no respect for the heritage of the site and the sports it accommodates, but also by an abject failure to secure the site thereby enabling unauthorised access and vandalism.
We have suggested the last reason because we believe the Planning Committee needs to recognise that by rewarding such tactics, they will send a message to developers that this approach is acceptable within the Borough. We plead that you send a message that such behaviours will not be tolerated by RBC.
The following pages of this Briefing Paper expand on points made in this summary.
2. THE APPLICATION CONFLICTS WITH THE LOCAL PLAN
2.1. Briefing Paper No2 described how the applicant put forward the site for redevelopment through the current Local Plan but the site was rejected by Rugby Council, a decision supported by the independent Government appointed Inspector.
2.2. During that process, the Government Inspector provided guidance to RBC on how to deal with this application, saying â€œit needed to start from the basis of safeguarding provisionâ€ and went on to say â€œThe key criteria for decision making in respect of Brandon Stadium were evidence of need, viability and alternative provisionâ€.
2.3. SCS contend the Officer has not followed the clear guidance from the Inspector and whilst acknowledging the site has not been allocated for housing in the Local Plan, the Officer justifies the recommendation for approval by stating, â€œhousing on this site is acceptable due to the site being previously developedâ€.
2.4. This argument is highly contentious. Briefing Paper No5 shows pictorially that more than half the site is a car park which, other than for access roads, has never been surfaced and is now overgrown with vegetation. Additionally, SCS assert the racing tracks, infield and associated pits areas should be designated as â€˜sports pitchesâ€™, which the Officer has ignored. Acceptance of this assertion would mean the footprint of the housing proposed far exceeding what should be considered as Brownfield.
2.5. Regarding the key criteria referred to by the Inspector, there is clear evidence of continuing need for the sports that took place at the stadium (as concluded by WYG independent consultantâ€™s commissioned by RBC), there is absolutely no evidence of the site being unviable, and as far as alternative provision is concerned, the applicant clearly stated in a meeting with SCS on 12th March 2020, they would not consider this as it would â€˜impact adversely on their profitâ€™.
2.6. Policy HS4 of the Local Plan seeks to protect and recreational facilities in line with National Policy and the application clearly conflicts with this policy.
2.7. Following the Local Plan Public Examination, Policy HS4 was subject to main modifications to ensure, amongst other things, that the approach to the protection of sports and recreational facilities is reflected in the Local Plan.
2.8. Policy HS3 of the Local Plan states:
â€œProposals that would result in a significant or total loss of a site and/or premises currently or last used for a local shop, post office, public house, community or cultural facility or other service that contributes towards the sustainability of a local settlement or the urban area will not be permitted except where the applicant demonstrates that:
o alternative provision of equivalent or better quality, that is accessible to that local community, is available within the settlement or will be provided and made available prior to commencement of redevelopment; or
o there is no reasonable prospect of retention of the existing use as it is unviable as demonstrated by a viability assessment and all reasonable efforts to secure suitable alternative business or community reâ€use been made for a minimum of 12 months or a period agreed by the Local Planning Authority prior to application submission.
Supporting text in Section 8.11 states:
o â€œCurrent inadequate profitability of a facility will not, however, be considered a sufficient reason in itself to merit its loss as the future potential of the premises as a local service or community facility could be made more viable or run in an alternative manner such as a social enterprise. On this basis, the Council must also be satisfied that there is no other interested party prepared to reâ€open the facility or that there is no scope for an alternative community useâ€.
Section 8.12 states:
o â€œIn terms of demonstrating that all reasonable efforts to secure a suitable alternative community reâ€use has been explored, applicants will firstly be expected to demonstrate that they have consulted the Parish and the Borough Council. The applicant will be expected to demonstrate that the premises has been marketed for a period of 12 months or a period agreed by the Local Planning Authority prior to application submission, before the Council will consider a change of use and the valuation attributed to the property should properly reflect its current useâ€.
The Neighbourhood Plan is an integral part of the Development Plan and the Brandon & Bretford Parish Council Neighbourhood Plan lists several facilities they wish to be protected. Along with the Village Hall and local Pubs, they list Brandon Stadium as one of those Community Facilities.
With regard to Paragraph 8.11, the Officer is fully aware another interested party (Mr Warren Hunter) has made a formal written offer to buy the stadium. Evidence of this has been provided to the Officer, including a copy of the offer letter (Appendix 4 of the SCS response to the Revised Application), yet the Officer skirts around this issue in the Report by making brief reference to an SCS assertion that an offer has been made â€“ when she has actually received the documentation.
And with regard to Paragraph 8.12, can RBC demonstrate that all reasonable efforts were explored by the applicant and that the Parish Council have been consulted? And neither the applicant nor the Officer can demonstrate the premises have been marketed for 12 months. The initial speculative approach made by Mr Hunter in March 2017 (to buy the stadium) met with a response from solicitors acting for the Applicant which clearly implied the cost of buying the site would be housing value rather than current use value (Appendix 1 of the SCS response of 18th August 2021). And two further approaches from local businessman Gary Townsend (to lease the stadium), met with responses from the same solicitor that â€œStock car racing will never be allowed to return to the stadiumâ€ (Appendices 2 and 3 of the SCS response of 18th August 2021).
The Officer makes no reference to Policy HS3 or supporting text in Sections 8.11 and 8.12, and neither the Applicant nor the Officer can demonstrate the requirements of this policy have been met in any way.
3. THE APPLICATION CONFLICTS WITH BRANDON & BRETFORD NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN
o Paragraph 12 of the NPPF states â€œWhere a planning application conflicts with an up-to-date development plan (including any neighbourhood plans that form part of the development plan), permission should not usually be grantedâ€.
3.1. What the Officer included in the Report
o The Report makes reference to Brandon & Bretford Parish Council in Section 2.5 under â€˜Third party commentsâ€™, simply stating they â€œObject on visual amenities, open aspect and traffic issuesâ€.
3.2. What the Officer makes no reference to in the Report
o Page 44 of the Neighbourhood Plan refers to Policy LF1 related to Community Facilities. It states "Proposals which assure the retention, enhancement or improvement of valued community facilities will be supportedâ€¦.. Proposals that would diminish or remove a community facility will be required to demonstrate that the facility is no longer needed or viable and that there is no realistic prospect of viability being improved with either the current or other community use(s)â€. It goes on to state â€œThe survey of residents and businesses showed that the existing local facilities within Brandon and Bretford were valued and hence it is important to ensure that they are protected and, where possible, allowed to be enhanced to improve their community valueâ€. Brandon Stadium is listed as one of those Community Facilities they wish to see protected.
o As outlined in Briefing Paper No3, the Neighbourhood Plan makes further reference to Brandon Stadium (Section 4.4, Page 20) stating the Parish Councilâ€™s own survey of the local community, reveals the residents â€œoverwhelmingly opposeâ€ redevelopment of the stadium and â€œThere is a community wish that the site should be retained as a celebrated sports facility for speedway and stock car racing. The community is not persuaded by the arguments that it is not or cannot be made viable at its locationâ€.
o Regarding Green Belt designation, the Neighbourhood Plan, referring to the BE Planning Application states, "The community is neither persuaded that this is an appropriate use for the location in an attractive landscape within the Green Belt nor that a need for this development within the Neighbourhood Area has been established."
Why has the Officer misrepresented the requirements and the wishes of the Neighbourhood Plan, which makes it abundantly clear that this development is unwanted by the local community and, moreover, the community wish is that the stadium is retained?
4. THE APPLICATION CONFLICTS WITH GREEN BELT POLICY
4.1. The site is in the Green Belt and the stadium was already in place when that designation was made.
4.2. The site is outside the settlement boundaries of both Brandon and Binley Woods villages.
4.3. The Officer dismisses Green Belt Policy as â€œit is considered the proposed development would not have a greater impact on the openness of the Green Belt than currently existsâ€. This seems outrageous given the scale of housing proposed and even more so when this had been proposed and rejected through the local plan.
4.4. As the aerial views in Briefing Paper No5 show, the stadium is right at the rear of the site. The applicants claim the site is completely obscured by hedgerows and trees. Theyâ€™re not â€“ the hedgerows and trees in Speedway Lane are sparse and allow open views across the site to see the woodlands beyond Gossett Lane as pictures in Briefing paper No5 shows. Residents walk their dogs around this land and pedestrians access it en route to the woods. If this application were to be approved, that â€˜opennessâ€™ and distant woodland would be obscured by houses, a pavilion, fencing and floodlighting, not to mention 300 vehicles accessing the proposed housing estate and football pitch 365 days of the year.
4.5. And the purpose of the Green Belt and this concept of â€˜Opennessâ€™ is not restricted to the visual aspect as described below:
o Paragraph 137 of the NPPF states that, â€˜The fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open; the essential characteristics of Green Belts are their openness and their permanenceâ€™.
o Paragraph 138 of the NPPF provides the purposes of the Green Belt. (a) to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas; (b) to prevent neighbouring towns merging into one another; (c) to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment; (d) to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and (e) to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.
o The Officer, in recommending approval of the application, has ignored Paragraph 138, in particular points (a), (c) and (e).
Briefing Paper No5 makes reference to previous applications either on, or near the stadium, which have been refused, citing sections of Paragraph 138 as reasons for refusal. What makes this application different?
4.6. Brownfield designation
o The Officerâ€™s Report in discussing the Green Belt states (section 5.4 page 15) â€œThe existing built form takes up approximately 4.35ha of the site and the proposed built form will cover approximately 4.1ha of the siteâ€.
o Within the perimeter of the stadium itself there are a number of buildings such as the main grandstand, the back straight covered area, the hangars, the dog kennels and a number of smaller outbuildings. In addition, concrete terracing surrounds the racing circuit. These areas we do not dispute could be considered brownfield.
o Then there are the racing surfaces â€“ the dog track, the speedway / stock car track, the infield (which is an integral part of the race track), the pits area and the changing rooms.
o We dispute the notion that these areas should be considered brownfield and instead, should be considered as a â€˜sports pitchâ€™, in the same way for example, a tennis court, or indeed, a 3G sports pitch is.
o The proposed 3G football pitch / changing rooms / pavilion are clearly not included in the 4.1ha, so the race tracks and associated integral facilities should not be included in the 4.35ha.
o Taking this into account, the proposed extent and scale of housing proposed would extend well beyond and far exceed the existing built form.
o This argument was put forward in the SCS response to the original (2018) planning application, but the Officer has overlooked this and provided no explanation for this inconsistency.
5. THE APPLICATION CONFLICTS WITH THE NPPF (PARAGRAPH 99)
5.1. In one of the few references to any of the extensive representations made by SCS, the Officerâ€™s Report (Section 6.12, Page 17) states â€œSCS&S contend that paragraph 99 I is not open to the applicant on the basis that the requirement is that the whole development should be for sports and recreation. Officers consider it is for the applicant to propose alternative provision. The Council will then make a planning judgment as to whether the alternative provision offers qualitative benefits that clearly outweigh that on offer previously, and if so then the requirements of paragraph 99 I can be metâ€.
5.2. The Officer has misunderstood the point SCS are making. The point being made is Paragraph 99c clearly states â€œThe development is for alternative sports and recreational provisionâ€¦.â€. BE pursued their proposals through the Local Plan and then with a speculative application aimed at compliance with Paragraph 99a. They failed on both occasions. Neither of those failed attempts had any mention of any sports provision. This third attempt is a blatant attempt to get around Paragraph 99 by providing a 3G football pitch.
5.3. As described in Briefing paper No4, the application is not for alternative sports and recreational provision, the football pitch is ancillary to it. The application is and always has been for housing, as evidenced by the applicants first two failed attempts. If the NPPF condoned this approach, their Paragraph 99c would state â€œThe development includes alternative sports and recreational provisionâ€.
5.4. In accepting this application is for alternative sports and recreational facilities, the Officer is condoning the misinterpretation of the NPPF whilst at the same time ignoring objections made by the trustees of the nearby Wolston Community Centre facility offering similar provision and the devastating impact it could have on that facility.
5.5. On 6th November 2018, SCS sent the Officer a response to the Sports Needs Assessment submitted by BE on 3rd October 2018. Reference was made to Wimbledon Speedway Stadium which was acquired by Galliard Homes (Section 2.37, Page 16). It made the point that the speedway stadium was replaced by a new 9,200 seat capacity football stadium (with an option to extend it to 20,000) for AFC Wimbledon. Whilst the development included provision of apartments, the main purpose was for alternative sports and recreational provision. That, SCS contend, is an example of a genuine compliance with Paragraph 99c, unlike the application put forward by BE.
5.6. The Report justifies a recommendation for approval by referring to the second part of Paragraph 99c (i.e. for replacement facilities to be provided) which states â€œthe needs for which clearly outweigh the lossâ€ but the case put forward by both the applicant and the Officer is very weak, subjective and vague, with no quantitative analysis provided.
5.7. In regard to this, the Applicant states (in the 3G Feasibility Study, Page 6) â€œIt is believed that the creation of the 3G provision will outweigh the lossâ€¦â€ and the Officer (in Section 6.21, Page 18 of the Planning Committee report) states â€œThe former sporting provision on the site of speedway, greyhound racing and stock car racing were minority spectator sports. The alternative sports provision of a 3G pitch which would be available for a variety of sports for different ages ranges and groups would be provide a more universal sporting facility of participation sports that would deliver greater benefits for health and wellbeing of residents especially for young people along with the social and community aspect that the associated pavilion would provideâ€.
Neither of these statements demonstrate the provision of the 3G pitch â€œclearly outweighs the lossâ€ as is required in order to comply with Paragraph 99c.
5.8. The dismissal by the Officer of speedway racing and stock car racing being â€˜minority spectator sportsâ€™ is insulting, even more so considering the significance of these sports at this venue:
o The average attendance at Brandon in the final year prior to eviction was 2,111 spectators. Contrast that with Rugby Town Football Club whose average attendance in 2022 (based on first five home matches) is 236 people.
o How many other sporting events in Rugby were regularly televised? Former speedway rider Jack Parker, has a blue plaque in Rugby â€“ how many other sportsmen/women can that be said of? The clubâ€™s most famous ever rider, Nigel Boocock, retired in 1980 and emigrated to Australia. When he died 35 years later, his ashes were flown back to the UK and were interred beneath the start line at Brandon with a crowd of 800 people in attendance.
o How many other venues or sports in Rugby Borough have staged World Cup Finals and World Championship events? How many other sports in Rugby have had six World Champions in their team or been represented by sportsmen from 14 different countries?
o Visit the local Brandon Club and a canvas-mounted picture of the stadium and framed pictures of speedway riders adorn the walls. Six years after BE closed the stadium, the Speedway Supportersâ€™ Club continue to meet at the Brandon Club on Thursday evenings.
o The reference to the benefits of a 3G facility â€œthe social and community aspects that the associated pavilion would bringâ€ is ludicrous. To quote an article in the Mail on Sunday (11th Sept 2022), related to Brandon Stadium and this planning application, it said: â€œSome people donâ€™t understand about stadiums; the memories they hold and the history that resides in seats and steps of terracing that once provided vantage points, or the communities that are formed among fansâ€. Does the Officer not realise the benefits to thousands of people, including many from the local community, the existing facility brings? Friends and families meet on the terracing or in the grandstand, they mingle in the bars after the racing concludes, getting autographs and taking pictures of their children with the riders and drivers. Parents name their children after riders and bereaved supporters scatter ashes of their spouse / parents on the Brandon shale.
o The Report shows letters of objection came from 11 different countries around the world, yet the Officer fails to understand the international, let alone wider regional and national significance of this stadium situated in the small village of Brandon in the Borough of Rugby.
5.9. With regard to participation in sport, the Officer states â€œThe alternative sports provision of a 3G pitch which would be available for a variety of sports for different ages ranges and groups would be provide a more universal sporting facility of participation sports that would deliver greater benefits for health and wellbeing of residents especially for young peopleâ€
5.10. The Officer (nor the applicant) is unable to quantify this in any way, hence the vagueness of the statement.
5.11. The SCS response to the revised application included 14 pages related to the proposed 3G football pitch, plus 10 appendices. The appendices included analysis of sites within a 10 mile radius of Brandon Stadium offering similar facilities to the proposed provision at Brandon. The search criteria was for sites which have artificial pitches, floodlighting, changing rooms, car parking and open to public booking.
o It revealed there are 39 sites, with a combined total of 70 pitches, of which, 28 are full sized.
o Further analysis provided included screenshots of pitch availability and shows plenty of spare capacity already exists within the area, including at Wolston Community Centre just 1.9 miles from Brandon Stadium.
o The applicant and the Officer, make much of the fact that the pitch is full sized, yet analysis of the Programme of Use, shows it is only used as a full sized pitch for one game a week (on Saturdays) and the rest of the week is subdivided into smaller pitches for 5-a-side games, mini-soccer and training â€“ precisely what the underutilised Wolston facility offers.
The applicant is providing a facility for which there is no need, in a desperate and misguided attempt to comply with Paragraph 99.
None of this has been considered by the Officer or mentioned in the report and in reality, the Officer, is recommending approval based on the applicant providing a 3G football pitch, ancillary to the main purpose of the application (housing), which duplicates provision elsewhere locally, for what is already the best catered for sport in the Borough and the Country, which in reality benefits just a handful of people playing just one game a week.
5.12. In doing so, the Officer appears to be happy to see the demolition of an iconic, almost 100 year old stadium for which there is a clear and proven ongoing need, is cherished by the local community and sports fans alike, which provides family entertainment and draws in more spectators than any other facility within Rugby Borough.
5.13. In suggesting the development would lead to increased sports participation, the Officer is ignoring the level of participation which already existed. The number of participants competing at Brandon in 2016 were 170 different speedway riders, (from eight different countries), including senior (professional riders), Youth Development League riders and junior riders. Booking sheets also show 765 different Stock car drivers competing in 12 different formulas. This included youngsters (11 years and upwards) in Mini-stox, ladies races and seniors. These riders and drivers competed multiple times throughout the season.
6. OPPOSITION HAS BEEN OVERWHELMING AT EVERY STAGE THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS
6.1. The response to the public consultation resulted in almost unanimous opposition and numbers unprecedented in RBC history.
6.2. Opposition has come from every quarter: o General Public (largest response in RBC history) o Brandon & Bretford Parish Council o Binley Woods Parish Council o Governing bodies of the sports being displaced (though not all listed by the Officer) o 10 Members of Parliament / Lords (though not all listed by the Officer) o RBC Landscape Officer o Trustees of Wolston Leisure & Community Centre o Local community. o With regard to Sport Englandâ€™s response, the Officer simply states â€˜No objectionâ€™ but has not addressed important issues raised within their response.
6.3. The Tables below show the result of the Public Consultation following the Exhibitions by the applicant in 2014 and 2017 and the response to the original (2108) application and the revised application in 2021. These are people who have taken the trouble to send emails or letters to the Applicant / RBC
2017 Exhibition Support 17 (10.8%), Neutral 6 (3.8%), Object 134 (85.4%) Source: BE Planning Application
Original (2018) Application. Local (Brandon & Binley Woods) Support 6 (6%), Object 93 (94%) All Responses Support 6 (0.4%), Object 1490 (99.6%) Source: RBC Officerâ€™s Report
Revised (2021) Application Local (Brandon & Binley Woods) Support 3 (33.3%), Object 6 (66.7%) All Responses Support 3 (0.3%), Object 1006 (99.7%) Source: RBC Officerâ€™s Report
In recommending approval of this application, the Officer has simply swept aside and ignored all this opposition and in doing so, sends a message that consultation exercises conducted by RBC are pointless exercises, as they will simply be ignored.
7. COMPARISON OF COVENTRY STADIUM TO OXFORD STADIUM
7.1. Like Coventry Stadium, the stadium at Oxford was purchased by property developers. Speedway racing ceased in 2007 whilst greyhound racing continued until 2012.
7.2. In March 2022, the reinstated stadium reopened for speedway racing and has enjoyed capacity crowds throughout the season. Greyhound racing has recently been reintroduced too.
7.3. The Officer makes quite ludicrous comparisons (Section 17.4, Page 28) between the two venues, referring to Oxford as having â€˜historic links and greyhound racing being for the leisure of factory workersâ€. The reality is, that whilst Oxford is a nice stadium, the history and heritage of the site does not compare to Brandon. It does not have the same international significance as Brandon. The independent consultant commissioned by RBC summed up Brandon saying â€œBrandon was unquestionably still a significant motorsport venue up to its demise and was more than just a local trackâ€. Oxford, in comparison to Brandon, is a â€˜local trackâ€™
7.4. SCS had conversations with the Deputy Leader of Oxford Council (Ed Turner), a Cabinet Member (Alex Hollingsworth) and Stadium Manager (David Lestrade). In addition, SCS met the new operator of the stadium Kevin Boothby and held face to face talks. These discussions revealed how, despite having no heritage status when Galliard Homes bought the stadium, Oxford Council pursued this, eventually achieving heritage status for two buildings on the site. They also recognised the affection people had for the stadium and commissioned reports to show the adverse impact on the wellbeing of former patrons and a Viability Assessment which was subsequently used in conjunction with specific written policies in its emerging Local Plan and how they were prepared to use compulsory purchase order powers as a last resort if the owners were not prepared to sell the site. Interestingly, they also said they took exception to being â€˜lied toâ€™ and refused to be bullied by wealthy developers. In short, Oxford Council were determined to retain the site for sport.
7.5. On 3rd September 2021, SCS met senior officers at RBC including Mannie Ketley, David Burrows and Richard Holt (the Planning Officerâ€™s manager). During that meeting and in a follow up email on 20th September 2021, SCS informed attendees of this process which resulted in Oxford Stadium being reinstated. With the permission of Mr Hollingsworth, SCS provided attendees with his name, email address and mobile â€˜phone number as he was quite prepared to speak to RBC. On 19th August 2022, during a â€˜phone conversation with the Officer, SCS were told that reference would be made to Oxford in the Report as the Officer had â€˜read upâ€™ on the situation.
Why, when SCS had met with senior officers and explained the process which enabled Oxford Stadium to be reinstated and followed this up with an email which provided the contact details of Mr Hollingsworth, was all of this ignored and no-one made contact with him? And why is there such a fundamentally different approach between Oxford and Rugby Councils in terms of their attitudes towards development which is unwanted by the local community?
8. WHAT IS NOT IN THE OFFICERâ€™S REPORT
8.1. What is omitted from reports is often more important than what is in them and can reveal an attempt to mislead readers. This Paper has already referred to some omissions, and this final section highlights further examples of documents that are missing and information, inconvenient to the Officerâ€™s case and recommendation, which is not referred to.
8.2. Documents missing from the Report (not referenced anywhere in the Officerâ€™s Report)
o Letter of Objection from the Chairman of British Speedway Promoters Ltd. (BSP). â€¢ There is no reference whatsoever to a letter of objection from the Chairman of the British Speedway Promoters. The letter, sent on the Officer on 6th August 2021, refutes many claims made by consultants (KKP) on behalf of BE, regarding the health of speedway racing in the UK. In that letter, the Chairman offered to meet with the Officer to discuss the issues. The Officer did not respond to the offer despite the headquarters of the BSP being based in Wood Street, Rugby, and just a few hundred yards from the Town Hall.
o Letter of Objection from the Governing Body of Speedway (Speedway Control Bureau) â€¢ There is no reference whatsoever to a letter of objection from the governing body of speedway (Speedway Control Bureau). This letter, sent to the Officer on 9th August 2021, draws attention to the adverse impact on the sport following the forced closure of Brandon and the thriving Youth Development Programme within speedway. Again, it has been ignored by the Officer.
o Letter of Objection from the Governing Body of Stock Car Racing (BriSCA) and Oval Racing Council International (ORCi). â€¢ There is no reference whatsoever to a letter of objection from BriSCA and the ORCi, sent on 10th August 2021, in which the Chairman, Steve Rees refers to the void left following the closure of Brandon and the loss of the sport in the Midlands which caters for grass roots participation and families.
In failing to mention these highly significant responses, the Officer is implying that the governing bodies who objected to the original application in 2018, were not minded to do so again in 2021, and has therefore ignored their views completely.
o Joint Letter of Objection from 10 Members of Parliament / Members of House of Lords â€¢ Whilst the Officer refers to objections from four individual Members of Parliament there is no reference whatsoever to a joint letter of objection sent on 23rd April 2018. This letter (included in Briefing Paper No3) urges RBC to â€œreject the planning application and actively support the return of Brandon Stadium to its former long-established useâ€.
8.3.Examples of other omissions from the Officerâ€™s Report
The Report discusses the Loss of a Sporting Facility and refers to a number of â€˜independentâ€™ reports commissioned by the applicant and copies and pastes many sections from those reports to justify the recommendation for approval.
These reports are not independent. They are written to support a predetermined conclusion required by the applicant, their paymasters.
The Officer readily accepts them as fact, despite being provided with evidence which disproves the claims. Below are just a few of many examples.
The Officer describes the site (Section 1.2 of the Planning Committee Report), just as the applicant had, as â€œpreviously developed land and is currently occupied by a disused stadiumâ€ and copied and pasted (Section 6.6) large sections from the application, which includes a statement that â€œthere are no licence holders willing to hold motor racing events at the stadiumâ€.
Bear in mind the sale of the stadium began early in 2013 and the Applicant first revealed their plans to build houses on the stadium site at an exhibition at Binley Woods Village Hall in October 2014. Whilst this was going on, both speedway and stock car racing was taking place at the stadium, with full seasons of racing right up until the end of 2016.
It was not a disused stadium until the Applicant engineered the situation by evicting the sports â€“ the stadium is only disused because the Applicant closed it.
The Officer knows this is the case and has been provided with evidence of how the applicant engineered the situation to evict the sports and then attempted to untruthfully concoct a narrative that it was disused and that none of the licence holders were willing to stage events at the stadium.
This evidence presented to the Officer includes two emails sent (on 11th May 2017 and 11th January 2018) from James Crocker of Howell Solicitors, acting on behalf of BE, which state â€œAs previously intimated, and for the avoidance of doubt: Stock car racing will never be allowed to return to the Stadiumâ€.
In addition, the Officer copied and pasted the Applicantâ€™s claim that the stadium closed because no licence holders were willing to stage events at the stadium. In the Planning Application the Applicant falsely claimed that stock car licence holders Coventry Racing Club (and former stadium owners) had been offered an extension to the lease in mid-2016. A letter of apology was subsequently sent from the applicantâ€™s previous planning agent, Framptons, (on 7th November 2018), to Coventry Racing Club for this false claim.
The Officer was copied into this letter of apology and in the letter, the author asked that statutory consultees be given copies of this letter. The Officer failed to forward a copy to any consultees, leaving them to continue to believe none of the licence holders were interested in continuing to run events at the stadium.
Why does the Officer reproduce statements, which sets the context for the report, to justify the recommendation for approval of the application, despite being in possession of and making no reference to, evidence which clearly demonstrates those statements are blatantly untrue?
And why did the Officer fail to forward a copy of the letter of apology to statutory consultees as requested?
BE stated in their original 2018 application that â€œThe applicant has received several enquiries from parties interested in either acquiring or operating Coventry Stadiumâ€ and go on to say â€œnone of the parties seeking to re-use the facilities have demonstrated a credible business case or professional team to operate the stadium or have failed to provide suitable evidence of funds to either operate or acquire the subject site and premisesâ€.
The applicant repeated that statement in the revised 2021 application despite meeting, at the stadium, a very credible individual who followed this up with a formal offer to buy the stadium. The offer was an inconvenience to them and something they made no reference to in what can only be deemed to be an attempt to mislead.
Referring to this, the Officer states in the Report (Section 6.7) that â€œSave Coventry Speedway & Stox have stated that a local businessman has offered to buy the stadiumâ€¦..â€.
This implies SCS have â€˜claimedâ€™ an offer has been made.
The Officer (and members of RBC senior team) were provided with evidence which includes the name of the individual (Warren Hunter), details of his business (Huntapac Ltd) including how many people he employs (520), the nature of his business (farming and processing root vegetables), who his main customers are (Tesco and Marks & Spencer), a copy of his most recent annual accounts filed at Companies House (which show his turnover to be Â£55m pa) and a copy of the actual offer letter sent to BE on 27th May 2020. (The offer incidentally, has not been refused).
So why does the Officer not make reference to this and instead say SCS have stated this, as it tends to suggest itâ€™s an unsubstantiated claim?
In addition, as described in Section 2 of this Critique, Section 8.12 of Policy HS3 states â€œthe Council must be satisfied that there is no other interested party prepared to re-open the facilityâ€, the Officer is aware of another interested party but has chosen to ignore this.
The Officer refers to a separate planning application submitted by SCS (Application Ref: R22/0071) and states (in Section 6.7) that â€œno compelling evidence has been presented by SCS or anyone else that shows that such a use would be likely to be implemented as a viable propositionâ€. (the â€˜useâ€™ being the reopening of Brandon Stadium).
The onus is not on SCS to demonstrate the stadium was viable or would be viable in the event of it being reopened but rather on the applicant to prove the stadium was surplus to requirements and not viable. BE were unable to provide a shred of evidence to make this case when they submitted the original application. The only Independent Consultant (commissioned by RBC) in this entire process concluded â€œviability of the former Coventry Stadium is difficult to establishâ€ and â€œclarity surrounding the operation of the Stadium and the ultimate viability is still cloudedâ€.
Having said that, to counter unsubstantiated claims by the applicant in their planning application, SCS provided the Officer with:
o A letter from the previous owner explaining the reason for the sale (which was not related to viability)
o A letter from the previous ownerâ€™s accountant
o Detailed analysis of the profits made from just eight (F1) stock car meetings in 2016, the final year before the forced closure. Sent on 15th March 2018, the analysis showed, meeting by meeting, the number of attendees broken down in adults / children / students and OAPâ€™s, total cash through the turnstiles, VAT paid, number of competitors, start money and prize money paid to those competitors and all expenses including staff wages etc). This detailed analysis is available on request should Members wish to see it. The net profit from just eight (F1) stock car meetings was Â£288,603. This excluded the very significant profit from catering and in particular, bar sales.
The Officer makes no reference to any of this in the Report.
Why does the Officer make this statement regarding viability when BE failed to provide any evidence of non-viability and despite never being asked for it, SCS provided evidence which demonstrates huge profits were made - yet this has been ignored and not referred to in any way?
The Officer goes on to say (in Section 6.7) â€œFurther information has been requested regarding the structural integrity of the buildings to enable the (SCS) application to be determinedâ€. Briefing Paper 8 describes how the application was submitted in accordance with advice from the Officer, how, after providing additional drawings and detail as requested, the application was registered (based on a structural survey being a reserved matter), went through the consultation process with no objections from any statutory consultees and to the best of our knowledge overwhelming support from the local community, yet a full two months after the consultation period ended, SCS were advised there was â€œinsufficient information to give a positive outcomeâ€.
Additionally, why does the Officer not provide Members with a fuller explanation of the situation regarding the status of the planning application submitted by SCS?
Two further points related to this planning application.
Repeated requests were made to the Officer to see the response to the SCS planning application. These requests were made in emails to the Officer on 16th May 2022, 7th June 2022 and 25th July 2022 as well as verbally in a â€˜phone conversation 13th May. On 15th July, this issue, amongst others, was raised in an email to Senior Officers at RBC, including Nicola Smith, Head of Growth and Investment. On 4th August, SCS received a reply confirming â€œYou are correct that you are able to see third party comments and technical consultee responses on an applicationâ€ and went on to say "I know Erica is working on pulling the relevant documents together for your perusal, so should be in contact with you shortly."
At the time of preparing this report (19th October), more than 23 weeks after the consultation period ended, SCS have still not been afforded the opportunity to see the public response to their planning application. We have reason to believe the response has indicated there is overwhelming support for the SCS proposals.
Secondly, a Freedom of Information Request related to the application was submitted by SCS on 3rd August 2022. An email of acknowledgement was received the same day allocating a Reference Number (4026383) and indicating a formal response would be received within 20 working days.
At the time of preparing this report (19th October), more than 50 working days later, SCS has yet to receive a response to the Freedom of Information request.
Both of these issues are clear failings of process on the part of RBC Officers.
Both the BE application and the Officerâ€™s Report and recommendation relies heavily on the provision of, and need for, a 3G football pitch.
What the Officer included in the Report
The Report refers to the 3G Feasibility Study prepared by consultants (commissioned by BE) KKP, and the Officer reproduces a number of paragraphs from this study.
The sections referred to by the Officer refer to Playing Pitch Strategy documents for both Rugby and Coventry. The Rugby version is 11 years out of date. It goes onto refer to Rugby Local Football Facility Plan (LFFP), saying it is more up to date. That is seven years out of date but indicates there is a need for local full size 3G pitches.
In reproducing another section from the consultantâ€™s study, the Officer refers to the demand for such facilities was â€œreflected in the level of interest the prospective pitch has generated with five community clubs consisting of several teams expressed an interest in utilising a prospective pitchâ€.
What the Officer made no reference to in the Report
Briefing Paper No 4 details the local clubs who showed an initial interest in utilising a pitch at Brandon and describes that only two of the nine were in the Borough of Rugby and despite five of them showing an interest, three subsequently withdrew their interest leaving just two, not five as the Officer suggests.
The KKP 3G Feasibility Study was 19 pages long with the authors doing their best to demonstrate the need for and viability of the proposed facility.
Early in the Study however, on Page 3 under the section entitled â€˜Assessment of Needâ€™ the authors quote the Football Foundation and Birmingham FA saying â€œthey believe the proposed location may be too rural to attract sufficient demandâ€.
Right at the end of the Study on Page 18 in the section â€˜Conclusionsâ€™ the following statements were made which cast real doubt about the need and support for and sustainability of the 3G pitch provision:
â€œSport England could still object to the development if it does not consider the proposal to be sufficient mitigation for the loss of the speedway track, as per NPPF point Câ€ and â€œsupport is not guaranteed from either the FA or the Football Foundation given that the project was not identified as part of the LFFP processâ€.
â€œSustainability may be somewhat impacted upon if the pitches that are in the LFFP are delivered over its ten-year lifespanâ€.
This proposed facility is obviously not something they could sell to a would-be Operator as their own Business Plan shown in the Study projects a marginal profit of just Â£3k per year for an investment in excess of Â£1m. It would suggest therefore, the applicants are prepared to â€˜giftâ€™ this facility to anyone prepared to take it on, whilst writing off an investment of Â£1m, simply in a misguided and desperate attempt to comply with Paragraph 99 which in turn could enable them to make millions of pounds from housing.
Why, when KKP themselves cast real doubts about the need for and sustainability of this 3G pitch provision, does the Officer not make reference to any of these points in the Report or question the motives behind it?
The second part of the study undertaken by KKP is entitled â€˜Coventry Stadium Speedway Viability Appraisalâ€™
What the Officer included in the Report
The Officer once again (Section 6.14) copies and pastes assertions made by consultants KKP, commissioned by the applicant, and accepts them as fact. These include assertions of â€œsignificant reduction in attendance, declining viewership and TV revenue and less participation in the sportâ€. The Report goes on to reproduce â€œThe decline in speedway, in tandem with the reduction in both greyhound and stock car events has resulted in the closure of several speedway stadiums in the UKâ€.
The Officer also made reference (Section 6.15) to the new Â£7m speedway stadium in Manchester and its lack of profitability since it opened in 2016.
What the Officer made no reference to in the Report
SCS submitted a comprehensive response to this application. The response was 68 pages long and included a further 20 appendices. Of those 68 pages, 20 of them countered claims made in the KKP report related to the health of speedway.
As an example, one of the appendices within the SCS response included a chart showing official TV viewing figures over an 18 year period which clearly showed how KKP had manipulated data in a deliberate attempt to mislead.
It was also very noticeable that in a document entitled â€˜Coventry Stadium Speedway Viability Appraisalâ€™ there was a complete lack of any evidence relating to Coventry Stadium itself, with the report merely copying and pasting from other planning applications elsewhere in the country and seeking to extrapolate those claims into the Coventry situation.
Another appendix was a copy of three-page letter sent to the Officer from the Chief Executive of Belle Vue (Manchester) Speedway, clearly explaining the business model underpinning the stadium which had been misrepresented in the KKP report, and in which he invited the Officer to contact him.
As has already been mentioned, the letter of objection from the Chairman of the British Speedway Promoters Ltd also offered to meet the Officer to discuss this very topic.
Why has the Officer completely ignored compelling arguments made in the comprehensive response by SCS and not responded to invitations from two very senior figures in the sport to meet or discuss the KKP claims?
SCS could cite many more examples such as those referred to above but do not wish to make this critique too long. If however, Members would like further examples, SCS would be happy to provide them.
We trust Briefing Paper No9 supports the opinion stated at the beginning of this paper that the Officerâ€™s Report is unbalanced to the point of being biased and respectfully urge Members to vote for refusal of the application based on the facts and evidence presented.