Sports centre project for green belt land spurs 1,000 objections

MORE than 1,000 people in Rotherham are opposing plans to build a new sports centre with eight pitches on green belt land in Kimberworth.

The plans, which have been submitted by Malcolm Watkinson Ltd, are for eight sports pitches along with changing rooms, a maintenance building, a children's play area, a car park and a new access road.

That development, which includes two floodlit pitches and three all-weather pitches, would be built on a rural area of land close to the M1 motorway, behind homes on West Hill.

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The application has been downsized since it was originally submitted in July 2006, with the original plans being for 11 sports pitches of various sizes, a driving range, an archery area, two tennis courts, a putting green and a bowling green.

However, discussions have since taken place between Rotherham Council and the applicant on the suitability of building such a large development on an area of green belt land which is currently used as a paddock and for hay-making.

Although the site was previously used as a sports ground, these facilities fell into disuse some years ago and planners say there is currently "little evidence" of outdoor sport in the area. As a result, one of the large sports pitches, both tennis courts and various other facilities have been removed from the proposals.

However, despite these changes, the scheme has become even more unpopular with local residents. Four years ago, 53 letters of objection and two petitions, together containing 407 signatures, were submitted to Rotherham Council against the plans.

An additional 133 letters of objection were sent in October 2007 referring to the amended scheme and, following the submission of additional information this year, a further 91 letters of objection and a petition containing 539 signatures were submitted.

In total, Rotherham Council has now received 277 letters of objection and three petitions containing a total number of 946 signatures in opposition to the development.

Objectors say that the pitches would impact on the rural landscape, affect views of the countryside and harm wildlife. Concerns have also been raised about the new access road and car parking, which neighbours say will lead to a loss of privacy and also create congestion in a currently quiet area.

Others claim floodlighting would lead to light pollution, additional noise would impact on neighbours and the facility could bring about an increase in crime.

Just two letters of support for the scheme were sent to Rotherham Council, both claiming that the pitches would provide welcome additional sports facilities on the edge of Rotherham.

Town planners have advised councillors to approve the application at a committee meeting on Thursday, saying that the sports pitches are an "acceptable use" of green belt land.

They also say that most journeys to the sports ground would be in team buses, therefore not creating much additional traffic, and any additional light, noise and traffic created due to the new pitches would not have a "detrimental impact" on neighbours.

The planners' report says that the development would be "acceptable in this semi-rural area" and adds: "The proposed changing room and maintenance building are considered of an appropriate scale to facilitate a development of this nature and are therefore considered to be in accordance with local policy.

"The design of the proposed buildings is considered to be relatively traditional and the external appearance and finish, being timber-clad and render, will blend into the surrounding landscape.

"Furthermore, in an attempt to minimise the impact of the buildings on the landscape and openness of the green belt, the buildings are located close to the proposed car parking area and will be relatively well screened from residential properties."