St Albans City Football Club wants support for new base in Strategic Local Plan

The stand in Clarence Park which St Albans City FC would like to expand

The stand in Clarence Park which St Albans City FC would like to expand - Credit: Archant

Consultants have berated the district council for ignoring the pleas of St Albans City Football Club to be included in its blueprint for future expansion.

In a submission on the local authority’s draft Strategic Local Plan (SLP), Shire Consulting said the document “makes no mention at all of the club or its interests”.

The firm, acting on behalf of the Saints, said the snub came despite representations to an earlier public consultation, in 2014, followed by a meeting with planning officials last year, and a pledge in the council’s corporate plan 2015-2020 to help improve facilities.

With the club headquartered at ‘deficient’ and historic Clarence Park since 1908, where it has long been hampered by ageing facilities, it has been aspiring to provide fans and the team with a modern base.

This could involve a new development either at Clarence Park, or elsewhere.

Shire Consulting told the council that government planning rules stipulated that ‘positive growth’ for present and future generations should be outlined in local plans, which should also show support for strong, vibrant and healthy communities with accessible services.

But, the firm pointed out, “the latest version of the plan carries no reference at all to the club, its needs or the role it plays in assisting with community cohesion.”

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Also, while the council has previously promised to support the Saints’ bid to develop facilities, there is no reference to that goal in the SLP.

The authority was warned: “If the club were to fail, as it very nearly did before the current owners took over, all the community benefits which flow from the club would be lost.

“Currently the club is losing money on a regular weekly basis … the opportunities to address the various deficiencies at Clarence Park are limited.”

The Saints have called upon the district council to make “proper provision for the infrastructure needs of the community”.

Club co-owner Lawrence Levy told the Herts Advertiser it was ‘unbelievable’ that the Saints’ needs had not been referred to in the SLP, particularly as it had been reiterated at meetings, and a formal letter had been submitted.

At a recent planning policy committee meeting, he asked councillors to confirm their commitment to the Saints.

He asked whether they would agree to facilitate the development of St Albans City FC via the SLP, and subsequently the Detailed Local Plan (DLP), “to deliver this commitment by supporting the club and its aims to build a modern, sustainable and successful football club, creating opportunities in sport, leisure, and employment for the whole community”.

The council’s spatial planning manager Chris Briggs replied that “corporately, the council is supportive of the football club’s aspirations, to improve its facilities, and to enhance its role in the community.

“The club’s response to the plan is being considered, alongside the other responses received. It will be for the planning policy committee to decide how the SLP or the DLP reflects the support in due course.”

With about 325 submissions lodged, Cllr Julian Daly, the council’s executive leader and planning portfolio holder, said there was “lots of volume to work through, including representations from the football club”.

He later told this paper: “Because it is a strategic document, we don’t mention everything. But we will consider their representations.”

Cllr Daly added: “If there is somewhere in mind they want to build, there is nothing to stop them from applying for planning permission.”

He said that, like Herts county council and its calls for Green Belt land to be earmarked for future schooling needs, the club would need to be more specific about where it hoped to build.