Protected wildlife pledged new home to pave way for stadium

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A MAJOR ecological project to accommodate protected species of wildlife is due to be given the go-ahead to pave the way for a controversial sports stadium and retail complex on the edge of York.

The land earmarked for the major development is home to great crested newts as well as water voles and wildflower grassland.

The company behind the scheme, Wetherby-based Oakgate Ltd, has had to draw up proposals to create the nature reserve to accommodate the wildlife to allow the development to go ahead.

Blueprints for the drainage and ecology work to link a network of ponds stretching across more than an acre are due to be given the go-ahead by members of York Council’s planning committee on Wednesday.

A spokesman for Oakgate Ltd said: “While creating this new natural environment for local wildlife, our intention is also to create an informal recreation and education space for use by the community.”

The work will form a key element of the overall masterplan to create the 6,000-seater community sports stadium, which will become the new home of York City Football Club and York City Knights rugby league team.

The long-awaited scheme hinges on nearly £15m of investment from the developers behind a hugely contentious expansion of the Monks Cross retail park.

Residents and businesses fear the out-of-town shopping centre for showpiece retailers including Marks & Spencer and John Lewis will take shoppers away from the city centre shops.

But the Yorkshire Post revealed yesterday that both the retail scheme and the stadium project had been approved by councillors following a marathon planning meeting spanning more than eight hours on Thursday. Campaigners have warned the fight to halt the development will continue with calls for a public inquiry.

The planning committee’s decision will be sent to Local Government Minister Eric Pickles, who will decide whether the proposals will be called in for the public inquiry.

But council leader James Alexander claimed he is confident the show of support for the stadium and retail development will persuade Mr Pickles not to call in the decision.

The committee voted 11-4 in favour of the planning application, which also received high-profile support from York Central MP Hugh Bayley.

The council’s chief executive, Kersten England, also claimed the community stadium is key to achieving the city’s “economic and health ambitions”.

It is due to feature a series of elements to promote healthy living including an Institute for Sport and Wellbeing with St John’s University.

The go-ahead for the development was welcomed by senior executives from York City FC, who claimed the new stadium is vital to ensure the club’s future.

The move from Bootham Crescent to the new ground is due to wipe out the £300,000 annual losses that the club is currently having to budget for, with additional revenue generated through conferencing and hospitality events.

The club’s communications and community director, Sophie Hicks, said: “It will change the financial landscape and the whole dynamic of the club. The community stadium will inspire the players and local people and the move will ensure the long-term future of the football club.”

The go-ahead for the stadium plans was a landmark in one of the biggest weeks in the football club’s history.

York City won the FA Trophy after a 2-0 victory against Newport at Wembley last Saturday. The team will return to Wembley tomorrow for a play-off final against Luton Town which will see the winner return to the Football League.