'Stadium' wins approval
RESIDENTS have lost their fight to stop what has been dubbed a “mini stadium” being built in Hanham.
Football club AEK Boco finally won permission to extend their facilities following a tense council meeting.
The club, based at Greenbank Road, was given the go-ahead to put up four 18.2m floodlights and build two 50-space spectator stands.
But plans to erect a 1.8m fence were rejected with the club being told any barrier around the pitch must be no higher than 1.2m.
Initially South Gloucestershire Council's development control committee threw out the plans after listening to the views of local residents who say they feared parking problems, glare from floodlights and an increase in anti-social behaviour.
This was despite a report by council officer Patrick Jackson who recommended councillors support the plans.
This meant the proposals then had to be considered by the authority's spatial planning committee to have the final say.
The seven-strong committee, which met on July 22, heard from solicitor Tracey Merrett as well from Hanham ward councillors June Bamford and Brenda Langley and parish councillor Bernard Jackson, who all backed residents saying the plans would urbanise the area and impact on the lives of people living nearby.
Cllr Jackson told the committee: “The recreation ground has been there for some time and it's been enjoyed by local residents and their families.
“Boco Football Club are taking it over and trying to turn this amenity into a mini-stadium.
“Local families have said enough is enough.”
The committee heard that that the club intends to use the floodlights to provide two extra games a week, one between 6.30pm and 10.30pm on Wednesdays and one between 2.30pm and 6.30pm on Saturdays.
But the floodlights would have to be switched off no later than 9.30pm during the seven-month bat season, from April to October, and as early as 7.30pm in September and October.
Cllr Judy Adams (Conservative, Emersons Green) said she felt the fence was too high and put forward a condition that the height of the fence should be reduced to 1.2m.
Cllr Roger Avenin (Conservative, Bradley Stoke South) told the committee he was concerned about the loss of a public open space with Cllr Katie Cooper (Labour, Staple Hill and Mangotsfield) saying she was worried about the impact on one of the residents who would be living just 15m from one of the floodlights.
Cllr Avenin said: “I’m not really happy with this, I must admit. It seems to be a unilateral declaration of independence in declaring this a football pitch, restricting the open space for residents.
“We really have to take account of the strength of opposition on this. I shall be voting against it.”
Chairman Cllr Colin Hunt (Conservative, Emersons Green) then said: “I have to remind you that it is a football pitch at the moment.”
When people cried out “But it's not a stadium”, Cllr Hunt said: “I hardly think a 50-seater stand is a stadium”.
Towards the end of the meeting Cllr Mike Drew (Lib Dem, Yate North) said he felt if the committee rejected the plans, Boco would win on appeal and then the authority would lose the power to place any conditions on the scheme.
He was supported by Cllr Hunt who said: “We would lose all control”.
The committee finally voted in favour of the plans by five votes to two, with councillors Avenin and Cooper voting against the scheme.
The club had wanted to build a 1.8m high fence, but the decision still enables it to meet FA requirements for promotion to the next tier of the English non-league for both its men’s and women’s teams.
It also means the club can enter youth sides in the Under-18s Somerset Floodlit League, so its youth players can transition to senior football without leaving the club.
Following the meeting one resident told the Voice: “The club's long term plan is football most nights a week. It's all part of a bigger plan. The next thing is that they will want to turn the floodlights on for training, they won't be content with this.”
John Winter, AEK Boco chairman, said: “Following years of hard work from our management committee, we are pleased to be able to confirm that our application has been approved subject to conditions.
“This will now enable our men’s team to progress to the Toolstation Western league and our ladies’ team to progress through their football pyramid system. Most importantly our junior section will now have the opportunity of playing midweek floodlit football.
“Being able to provide this level of football for our junior players means that they do not have to leave our club as has been the case for the last four to five years.
"Now we will be able to provide the transition from junior football to senior football at our club.
“We are well aware of the concerns of the local residents with regards to light spill but thanks to the expertise of our consultants Grassroots Power they were able to reduce the overall impact of the application.
“As was the case 10 years ago when we sought planning permission for the new clubhouse, we have continued to prove that our much respected community club will continue to grow and provide a safe and healthy environment for the people of Hanham and surrounding area.”
The final hurdle will be when South Gloucestershire Council, which owns the site, decides whether to grant 'landlord's permission' to the club.
A decision is expected in the next few weeks.