Pitch battle as Longwell Green sports proposals divide opinion

Concerns are being raised about the impact on the local community if plans for an artificial grass pitch at the home of Longwell Green Sports FC are given the go-ahead.

The site is behind the community centre in Shellards Road and the planning application has been lodged with South Gloucestershire Council by Longwell Green Community Association. The proposed sporting facilities also include spectator stands, 4.5m high fencing and gates, replacement floodlights and acoustic mounds.

Concerns include the erosion of public open space, with back-to-back bookings on the pitch; noise (including from revellers using the centre’s sports bar after late-night matches); light pollution; an increase in traffic and parking problems; and flood risk.

However, scores of comments of support for have also been lodged. The new pitch will replace a grass football pitch and enable increased sporting provision and facilities for their players, as well as local community sports clubs and visiting groups.

The application says there will be no unacceptable level of impact or harm to neighbours or the local environment from noise, light, flood risk or transport-related issues. Although acknowledging there will be increased traffic movements, the application says there is enough parking provision on site for all club players and community visitors and there will be a travel plan/parking management plan in place.

Alan Jones, chair of Hanham District Green Belt Conservation Society, has highlighted the group’s concerns to the council: “We are keen protectors of green spaces and seek to encourage greater use of these precious areas, but following request from a member, we have taken a detailed review of the current proposals for an artificial grass pitch (AGP) at Longwell Green Community Centre.

“The close residents to these proposals have received no consultation with either the community centre, nor Longwell Green Sports FC – notification of the proposals came ‘out of the blue’ and has caused considerable unease. The close proximity of the proposals to residents, particularly in Palmdale (Close), should surely have warranted discussion from representatives before submission of an application as intrusive as this.

“Had the club made the effort to contact these close residents, they would have learnt of the current nuisance encountered by them and taken these into account in the application.”

The society says the acoustic report with the application does nothing to mitigate concerns: “No readings from actual matches on the current pitch have been undertaken, instead the report is based on selective comparison of ‘match’ sound readings from unrelated sports locations. The acoustic report includes comparison of these unrelated locations, the current ambient levels at the proposed site, and the effects of a timber fence. Astoundingly, they conclude that throughout play on the AGP, the noise impact on surrounding premises will be marginally higher than the background readings taken between 7pm and 8pm on a non-match evening. This is incredulous.”

He continues: “The application demonstrates continual operational hours between 9am and 10pm every Monday to Saturday and 9am to 8pm on Sundays and bank holidays. This is relentless! The aspiration in the documentation that within 15 minutes of cessation of on-field play the facility will be vacated and ‘locked down’ appears unrealistic.”

Regarding traffic, he says: “Increased use of facilities has been identified within the application proposals and will inevitably bring further traffic and parking. We are disappointed that South Gloucestershire Council’s Transport Development Control have registered ‘no comment’ on this issue. The large membership of Longwell Green Sports FC demonstrates how active the club is, but it must be remembered that the community centre is for all, not just one activity.”

He adds that while the society accepts that an AGP would provide improved sports provision, the proposals as they stand are flawed and should be refused.

There is a Scout hut in the grounds of the community centre and in a letter to the council, the group Scout leader says: “With the current state of the parking at the premises it falls on leaders to keep their wits about them and stop a child from being hurt seriously by the frankly reckless driving. If you add extra traffic, there will be a lot more issues with accidents. I feel this hasn’t been taken into consideration.”

In a letter, Chris Wyrill, chairman and trustee at Longwell Green Community Centre, tells the council that the centre is self-funding and cannot afford to help in any funding of the new sporting facilities: “However, and most significantly, the centre would benefit greatly from the development. Currently every time games are cancelled due to bad weather and pitches are unplayable, we lose out on users visiting the centre, which severely reduces our income by several thousands of pounds each year. This income is so important and supports the day-to-day operational cost of the centre, so for us the development is essential to help improve our income and financial position to support other community activities.”

One local resident, speaking at the remote meeting of Oldland Parish Council last week, said the football club have “ambushed” members to show their support for the application, hence the deluge of comments backing it on South Gloucestershire Council’s website.

Parish councillors said the proposals present a great opportunity for Longwell Green Community Centre and the community, but stress local concerns need to be heard and carefully considered. They want the South Gloucestershire ward councillors Toby Savage and Christine Price to ‘call in’ the application for consideration by the Development Management Committee.

Football club chairman John Gibbs spoke to parish councillors at their previous meeting about the application when he told them he wants to work with local residents in addressing their concerns.