Thursday, 22 April 2021

College’s controversial playing fields project set for approval

College’s controversial playing fields project set for approval

CONTROVERSIAL plans to create six playing fields on farmland in Shiplake are set to be approved at a meeting on Wednesday (November 6).

Shiplake College has applied to South Oxfordshire District Council for change of use permission for 23 acres of land on the opposite side of the A4155 from Shiplake Farm.

The planning committee will discuss the proposals, which have been recommended for approval.

The independent school selected this site after its original choice of 13 acres of farmland along Memorial Avenue was opposed by residents, who complained about the additional noise, risk to road safety and loss of open space.

Plans for new sports pitches have been a long-held ambition of leaders at Shiplake College, as the existing facilities are too close to the River Thames.

This means they are prone to flooding and the pitches are out of use for large parts of the rugby season.

Farmer Stephen Doble has previously raised concerns about the impact on the landscape, wildlife and neighbours.

He said: “I am deeply disappointed by the planning officer's recommendation. The loss of good arable land which my family have farmed for over a century will not only impact my livelihood but also the rural character and wildlife of Shiplake.

“The damage will be permanent and I cannot understand why it is necessary when cost effective options exist to improve the current pitches.

“It is a pity that Shiplake College's expansion strategy takes little account of their neighbours or the environment we are lucky enough to live in. 

“There is strong opposition to the proposals amongst local residents, as demonstrated by the number of local objections lodged against the proposal and over 160 residents signing a petition in opposition.

“Many of those residents feel that their voice has not been heard by the planning officer and the meeting is their last chance to make sure they are heard.”

The pitches are leased from the Phillimore Estate from September to December and are therefore unavailable for the spring term when football is played.

A design and access statement submitted to the planning authority by Boddingtons Planning sets out the desire for the new facilities.

It reads: “The college needs to find additional playing fields close to the school. They have searched over the past 50 years or so.

“This site offers a significant opportunity to achieve their ambition. The grant of permission will mean that the existing field alongside the river will be returned to agricultural use, albeit not of the same standard as the land now proposed for recreation purposes.

“The new fields do not flood and will be able to be accessed on foot from within the school lands.

“Given the outcome from previous consultation with the community, the college feels that it can best support the community via the facilities that are more central to the college site.”

There will be no floodlights and the existing playing fields by the river will revert to agricultural grazing to offset the change of use of the proposed field.

Apart from the goal posts and removable corner flags and nets, there will be no permanent structures in the field.

Shiplake Parish Council has objected to the plans due to concerns over the loss of land and potential for future development.

A spokesman said: “Although Shiplake Parish Council recognises the need and desire for Shiplake College to improve the rugby fields, we object to the change of use as the fields in question are productive, irrigated farmland and removal of such a large acreage would seriously impact on the future viability of Shiplake Farm.

“The landscape value of the open fields, reflecting the rural character of the village, would be lost. Approval would encourage other applications for developments on agricultural land.

“The impact on the local wildlife needs to be considered strongly as in recent months since gravel extraction has begun close to Shiplake the wildlife are seeking refuge in the environmentally-safer fields.”

Environmental charity CPRE Oxfordshire have also written to the district council to voice their objections.

The committee's statement says: “Shiplake College claims that it needs the new pitches because its present pitches become waterlogged and flood.

“This is understandable since we believe that the current drainage system under the pitches was installed 50 or so years ago.

“By replacing it with a modern, more efficient drainage system much of the waterlogging problem could be solved.”

The district council, which is the planning authority, will make the final decision.

Officers have recommended the plans for approval and do not believe the new pitches will harm the character of the area or wildlife.

A report to the planning committee reads: “The proposed development would support Shiplake College [and] result in improvements to the social wellbeing and health of students and support the college’s sporting commitments.

“The new pitches would enable the restoration of the existing riverside pitches. The development would have an acceptable impact upon the landscape character and appearance of the area.

“The development would result in positive ecological enhancements to the site and would not adversely impact the nearby wildlife site or landscape features.

“While the development would reduce the opportunities for farming the land, it would not be a permanent loss and could be reversed if needed in the future.”

Tyrone Howe, headmaster at Shiplake College, added: “I am, like my predecessor and other members of the college, enthusiastic about this planning application and pleased to see that the recommendation is to grant approval.

“We are, however, mindful of feelings within the community and are really keen to work with all stakeholders to ensure the best possible outcome for all parties.”

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