Thursday, 16 September 2021

School has 'no choice' over plan for new rugby pitches

THE chairman of governors at Shiplake College has defended plans to create six new sports pitches.

The independent school wants to use 13 acres of farmland along Memorial Avenue but residents have complained about the likely additional noise, risk to road safety and loss of open landscape.

The college’s existing rugby pitches, which are owned by the Phillimore Estate, are by the River Thames but in a poor condition and unplayable for about a quarter of the season due to flooding.

Mr Eggar, a businessman and former Conservative minister, says the proposed site, which is also owned by Lord Phillimore, is not ideal but there is nowhere else suitable.

He was responding to a letter sent to headteacher Gregg Davies on behalf of more than 20 residents of Memorial Avenue and Orchard Close after the school held a consultation meeting.

He said: “Whilst there has been some vocal support of the proposal, we recognise the opposition from many nearby residents and others in the vicinity.”

Mr Eggar said the school had spoken to the owners of other possible sites but none of these was available so it had “no choice” but to pursue its plans. “We must stress our need to move away from the riverside pitches,” he said. “We first started looking for additional playing fields more than 50 years ago!

“We have explored exhaustively putting in drainage on the riverside pitches and the advice is quite clear that whilst it may marginally help initially, the first flood would undo any short-term benefit.

“A flood risk assessment report from an independent survey conducted as part of a planning application for a new boathouse by the river shows that the riverside pitches lie in an area where the probability of a flood event occurring in any year is 20 per cent (i.e. one in five).”

Mr Eggar said the new pitches would be used for fixtures on a maximum of 20 Saturdays a year over the autumn and spring terms.

There were no plans for any lighting, buildings or toilet facilities as any further development would contravene the lease with the Phillimore Estate. He added: “The location is not preferable financially as there is a cost of capital and rental, which is more than the riverside pitches.

“As the majority of use during the week would be for training, not fixtures, there should be no risk of any additional cars.

“The only issue that might arise would be on a Saturday morning with visiting teams and parents wishing to support their children.

“We would inform everyone that parking is only available at the college, although we recognise this wouldn’t be 100 per cent enforceable. We would allocate a staff member to monitor parking and we could also try to rent spaces from Memorial Halls.”

Mr Eggar said he could not guarantee the provision of a crossing on the A4155, for pupils walking to the pitches.

“We are currently considering our next steps,” he said. “This may include making a pre-application for planning, which would seek to accommodate local residents’ concerns.

“Such a pre-application would only serve to establish whether there was a reasonable chance of getting permission granted and would not be a declaration that a formal planning application would be submitted.”

The college has said that the pitches could also be used by Shiplake Primary School and the community. Chris Penrose, who lives in Orchard Close, told the Henley Standard in July that there were “a lot of angry people” at the consultation meeting.

“It’s dreadful,” he said. “There’s the noise and the danger to the kids crossing the A4155. There will also be the loss of beautiful natural landscape. I think it’s an imposing, unneighbourly thing to do, right on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and would severely impact this neighbourhood.”

Charles Tollit, who also lives in Orchard Close, said: “The proposal, as we understand it, will bring a significant increase in the pedestrian traffic and noise in the close.

“Orchard Close is a rural environment with very little traffic and noise. The second issue is the close is quite small. Itt has only 12 houses each side and at the end of it you have the memorial hall.

“The parking space at the memorial hall is so small that people often park in our close and across drives.

“If these pitches come to pass there will be a significant increase because there’s no provision for parking in the proposal. If people start parking in Memorial Avenue as well it could make it a very dangerous road.”

More News:

POLL: Have your say