Objections from Sport England to the siting of an alternative school on a former playing field in Carlisle has brought plans for its construction back before committee for consideration.
Cumbria County Council’s development control and regulation committee will meet on Friday to consider, among other issues, the plans for the creation of a 40-pupil alternative school on land at Edgehill Road in Harraby.
The plans, which have been drawn up by the county council, are for an alternative provision school for young people who are unable to attend mainstream schools for academic, social or emotional reasons.
Planning permission was granted by development control committee on November 30 last year, subject to a number of conditions.
One of these conditions was that due to the publicity period on the application notice not having expired, a decision could be issued but should any adverse comments be submitted in relation to the application, it would have to be referred back to the county council’s development control and regulation committee for further consideration.
On December 3 last year, an objection to the proposal was received by the council from Sport England.
The site in question is a stretch of land adjacent to Edgehill Road, which has in the past been used as a car park for the former Harraby site of the Richard Rose Academy, and more recently as a temporary car park to support Newman School, when it occupied its temporary site at the former Pennine Way School after flooding caused by Storm Desmond.
The land is currently vacant, and comprises of a mix of grass, hardstanding and trees around three of its boundaries. It was last used as a playing field in 2007.
Sport England’s objection states that the plans for the siting of the school on the proposed vacant land off Edgehill Road do not accord with national planning policies, which state that “existing open space, sports and recreational buildings and land” should not be build on unless an assessment has been undertaken and demonstrates “clearly” that the open space is “surplus to requirements”, or that the loss of the land would be “replaced by equivalent or better provision in terms of quantity and quality in a suitable location”.
Sport England’s objection states that there has been a “lack of information” provided on whether the former school playing fields have “already been replaced”, as well as a “lack of information” on the “needs for outdoor sport provision in the local area”, as well as a “lack of any mitigation for the loss of the playing field”.
Cumbria County Council since has meet with Sport England three times in an effort to resolve these concerns.
According to a county council report prepared in advance of Friday’s meeting, at one of the three meetings a representative from Carlisle City Council was also present, who confirmed it is the view of the district authority that there is “adequate, indeed improved sports provision in this part of Carlisle”.
This site has been allocated for housing in Carlisle City Council’s Local Plan, and as a result it was argued “there should be no requirement to provide an assessment of recreational space to justify development”.
The county council report adds that the city council has confirmed that the cost of commissioning a district-wide Playing Pitch Assessment will be between £15,000 and £20,000, and is likely to take four months to complete.
According to the report, Sport England have “informally indicated that they might expect the county council to pay as much as £50,000 as compensation for the loss of the playing field”.
Given that the land is not currently being used as a playing field, consultation between the county council and Sport England has been carried out on a non-statutory basis.
“However”, the county council planning report notes, “this does not mean their views are unimportant”.
Sport England maintain that the allocation of this land for housing in Carlisle’s Local Plan – the overarching strategic document guiding the growth of the city – does not overtake Sport England’s objection.
It is acknowledged by the report, from the county council’s executive director of economy and infrastructure Angela Jones, that it is not certain which position has a greater weight of legal argument behind it.
However, she argues in favour of the city council’s position, given that the Local Plan is “meant to be an expression of the local communities’ priorities as much as they can”, and that at the time of the Local Plan’s creation, there was a conclusion that this field was “surplus to requirements” based on a detailed assessment of playing field provision.
Despite this, Sport England argue that Carlisle’s “Play Pitch Strategy” is “out of date” and “ideally needs to be updated each year”, though national planning guidance advised that the local planning authorities are expected to review Local Plans every five years.
Mrs Jones added that the understands the city council is “commissioning a new Playing Pitch Strategy to inform the allocation process”.
Sport England has also argued that playing field provision associated with the new Harraby Campus opposite the site and elsewhere “cancel out land lost as playing fields” in the local area.
The organisation also states that it is “unable to take into account”, according to Mrs Jones, the play pitch set to be provided alongside the proposed alternative education school, as it falls below Sport England’s threshold for compensating for the loss of land incurred by building the school.
The school would provide 40 places to meet the needs of children in Carlisle who cannot, for a range of social, emotional or mental health reasons, engage with mainstream education.
The county council has that this is a “growing number”, reflecting in the “substantial and rising number of school exclusions”.
Mrs Jones concludes in her report that there is a “significant need” for the alternative provision unit in Carlisle, and adds that city council planners believe that the provision of sports facilities is better now than before the Harraby Campus across the road was constructed.
As a result, she advises that the plans be approved.