Harpenden Colts-backed scheme for artificial football pitch rejected

St Albans City and District Council

St Albans City and District Council - Credit: Archant

Despite admitting there was a great need for an artificial football pitch in Harpenden, planning committee members have turned down a scheme to install one at a school.

And the decision to refuse the planning application for the 3G pitch and floodlighting at Roundwood Park School in the town, which would also have been used by Harpenden Colts outside school hours, has sparked an angry reaction among members of the 850-strong club.

Colts coach Tim Firmin said his players were very disappointed and some were in tears when they heard the news. He pointed out that the Colts were not asking the council for any funding or to help them out other than give an opportunity to build a small facility, not a huge clubhouse or field of pitches, which the club could use for training.

Describing the negativity of councillors as ‘tremendously depressing’, he said he was likely to quit coaching as a result of the outcome.

The decision to turn down the application because of concerns about the hours of opening and the impact on the surrounding area, particularly the noise that could be generated, was taken on the casting vote of the planning north committee chairman, Cllr Alex Turner.

He said at Monday’s meeting that he had been persuaded by the arguments of residents against the scheme and while he thought it was a good proposal, he was concerned about the detail such as the opening hours.

Local resident Matthew Bates from Claygate Avenue, Harpenden, told the committee that there were numerous issues of concern, notably poor access, traffic congestion, inadequate parking and more and more activities being squeezed on to the site.

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He described the scheme as a ‘speculative commercial development’ and a school was an unsuitable site.

But Wesley Bugg, agent for the school, said it was a misconception that the scheme was a commercial venture as all the profits would be contracted through the Football Foundation and go back into sport.

County and town councillor David Williams spoke for the scheme, pointing out that Harpenden had been identified by the Football Association as having the highest priority for a 3G pitch in Herts.

He said that hundreds of Colts’ players had to travel to places like Luton and Hatfield for a 3G facility when local pitches were unusable and to put one down at Roundwood would remove that need to travel out of the town.

On the issues of noise, lighting, opening times and parking, he said that planning and highways officers had looked at other similar facilities and their judgement should ease the worries of residents.

Several councillors voiced concerns about how late the facility would open at evenings and weekends. Describing it as a ‘really difficult application’ because everyone was aware of the needs of the school and the Colts as well as the shortage of 3G pitches, Cllr Teresa Heritage argued that 10pm opening on a weekday was late for an outdoor facility. Additionally, she was unhappy that it would stay open until 6pm on Sundays and bank holidays.

She added: “I live near a school and sometimes I think we do need some peace and quiet.”

Roundwood Park School did not wish to comment on the decision until it has had time to consider its next step.