27th Oct, 2020

Battle to keep Wasps Rugby Club out of 13 acres Green Belt site

CONTROVERSIAL plans to turn a well-loved sports hub in Henley in Arden into a ‘state-of-the-art performance centre’ for rugby giant Wasps, look set to be approved.

Stratford District Council (SDC) received an application from the Premiership club earlier this year to develop Henley Sports Centre – triggering a petition with nearly 3,000 objectors.

The 13-acre site on Stratford Road is in the Green Belt and was being used by around 1,500 people each week, including ten football clubs, a school, college, disabled basketball team and other groups.

Since the application was launched, more than 700 letters of objection have been received. There have been 11 letters of support.

A number of parish councils, including Henley, Wootton Wawen and Ullenhall, whose residents also use the hall, are objecting to the plans.

Parishioners claim the application does not recognise the Neighbourhood Development Plan, the value of the current site to the local economy, and fails to offer alternative provision.

But Wasps say the club is passionate about making a difference in all areas of the community.

If it is approved, conditions attached include providing pitch hire for archery, Gaelic football, Rugby League, Rugby Union and lacrosse, open training sessions four times a year, rugby training camps during holidays, and a Wasps community programme including technology and employability training for residents in the wider area.

Compensation of £50,000 has also been offered for a community project.

Campaign group Henley Sports Centre Alliance (HSCA) argues the proposed public use of the pitch for the select and specialist sports – which does not include football – would not make up for the loss to local people.

Despite fierce opposition, a report has recommended the application is granted on the grounds the move would ‘help to promote healthy, inclusive communities’.

It also claims evidence suggests there is ‘no realistic prospect’ of the facility continuing for commercial and operational reasons as it stands.

But the campaign group, which hopes to take over running the site as a Community Interest Company, says it has the funds to re-open and run the centre for the benefit of all.

A spokesman said: “Needless to say the news that the planning officer recommended granting the application was extremely disheartening.

“The report has been purely based on the research submitted by Wasps.

“This also includes the belief of SDC that, the centre would not be viable commercially. The HSCA has submitted a business and management plan that has blatantly been ignored as SDC states there is no viable alternative.

“We may have conceded a goal in extra time but we are still determined to win the penalty shoot out and will be using every last ounce of energy to ensure members of the planning committee are given the complete and true facts in order for them to make a well informed decision, hopefully in the favour of the health and mental wellbeing of their local community.”

Wasps – who play their games at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena and have shut out tenants Coventry City Football Club amid a legal dispute, are continuing to use Broadstreet Rugby Club in Binley Woods as a temporary training base.

The decision is set to be made when the planning committee meets on Wednesday October 21.

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