Go-ahead call for controversial school project on rugby pitch

Controversial plans to build a Leeds primary school on a rugby pitch are being recommended for approval despite the concerns of Sport England and the local rugby club that uses it.

Education chiefs say the proposals mean Richmond Hill Primary School could have one of the most energy-efficient school buildings in the world – but a local rugby club has expressed anger that it is to be built on a playing field they have used for years.

East Leeds Amateur Rugby League Club have been told their pitch has been earmarked for the new school. They have been promised a nearby replacement pitch but the club has previously raised concerns that a new playing field would not be of the same standard.

Club trustee Rhonda Langton also fears the proposed location is unsuitable and too close to people's homes.

Members of Leeds City Council's plans panel east will meet next Thursday to decide whether to back the Education Leeds proposal to demolish the existing Richmond Hill Primary School in Cross Green and build a 630-place new school on the site. Officers are recommending that members support the plans, which will see a replacement rugby pitch built.

A number of concerns have been received about the proposals, including petitions signed by over 170 people and objections from Sport England and local councillors.

Local councillors Richard Brett and David Hollingsworth, have written to the committee to say they welcome a new school but are worried about the impact on East Leeds Amateur Rugby League Club, including the loss of a training area.

The Rugby Football League has raised objections because it says the replacement pitch would be smaller.

Sport England has objected because it says it cannot support a proposal offering a replacement pitch which is not of the same standard. However, the report stresses that talks with Sport England are continuing and if Education Leeds can provide satisfactory answers to a number of points raised its objection may be lifted.

Campaigners are also concerned about the loss of an open space where children can play safely, claim the school will lead to an increase in traffic and will obscure the view from people's houses.

However a report to the committee says: "....it is considered that although the proposed development is a departure from policy, in terms of development of protected playing pitch, the requirements of the protected playing pitch policies have been met, which renders the development acceptable".

It adds: "As such, on balance, with consideration to all other planning considerations, including design, highways and amenity, that the proposed development is acceptable and is recommended for approval subject to conditions and withdrawal of the Sport England objection."

If Sport England withdraws its objections councillors will be asked to back the proposals and defer to council officers who will grant permission subject to conditions being met. However, if Sport England does not withdraw its objections, the plans could be called in by the Government for consideration.

Councillors will be told that a larger school is needed because of the closure of Mount St Mary's Catholic Primary School and predicted population growth in the area.

The school is designed to meet the Passivhaus design standard for energy efficiency in buildings. A building meets the design standard if it can reach a number of green targets, including having very good levels of insulation and indoor air quality.

It will mean the school will achieve low running costs, as it uses nominal amounts of energy for heating and cooling.

If the plans are backed the school, which will also provide special needs education, could open in 2012.