Chiswell Green woman’s horror over plans for sports village

A CHISWELL Green woman “gutted” by reports of a massive French sports village proposed to be built next to her home has had her hopes boosted that it will be jettisoned.

Local people voicing fears about the major sports and recreation hub on Green Belt land opposite Butterfly World were relieved to be told at a recent council consultation in Bricket Wood that there was no provision for such a development in draft plans setting out the shape of the district for the next 17 years.

June Hopkins was one of about 85 people attending the meeting to discuss St Albans district council’s vision for the future location of housing, schools, jobs and infrastructure.

She said it had “frightened the life out of us” to hear that Oxylane Group, a major French sports goods retailer, was planning to build the facility on a more than 100-acre site it owns on former agricultural land off Noke Lane, near the M25.

June owns property in the middle of the proposed sports village site. Prior to public consultation on the district’s planning framework, the draft core strategy, Oxylane asked the council to earmark the site as a possible area to build a multi-sports centre with commercial, health and education facilities in future.

The French retailer, which already boasts such centres in 17 countries, hoped that it would kick-start a network of similar facilities throughout the UK.

June said: “It was gutting. I have been talking to lots of people and they say it is a beautiful field – not one person said we need a new leisure centre. It frightened the life out of us to hear about the proposal. It has been horrible, a nightmare.”

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But district councillors allayed residents’ fears about the proposal, saying that while the core strategy included new leisure centres at Westminster Lodge and Cotlandswick, London Colney, it did not suggest a sports facility opposite Butterfly World.

After the meeting portfolio holder for planning, Cllr Chris Brazier, said he and fellow council representatives had spoken to residents about future infrastructure and developments, including the proposed Hilton Hotel.

He went on: “They asked about the French sports complex and I said that it isn’t in the core strategy.”

But he said that should Oxylane submit a planning application, the council would look at it and he advised residents who felt strongly about Green Belt development to submit comments to council’s online consultation on the strategy.

The council would move further to protect the Green Belt from development should that be the clear message from local residents, he went on.

Cllr Brazier said the overall message from six public meetings on the future shape of the district was that people wanted to maintain the distinctive character of the Green Belt, to prevent merging of villages with the city, but supported development of brownfield sites within the Green Belt.

Those at the Bricket Wood meeting also voiced concerns about 150 homes mooted to be built at the local Building Research Establishment.

June said that she had left the meeting “with a smile on my face.” She added: “It lifted my hopes. I’m feeling better that my home is not going to be jeopardised by this [Oxylane proposal] because we were worried they were going to try to buy us out.”

With the public consultation period now ended, council should know by tomorrow how many people have commented on the core strategy.

Feedback will be presented to a planning policy advisory panel by the end of March.