Victory for residents as High Court rules on Waterside Drive ‘sports hub’ case – yet the Council’s contractors refuse to halt building works!
The High Court has today ruled that Elmbridge Borough Council’s scheme to develop a ‘sports hub’ at Waterside Drive by the Thames in Walton, was unlawful. The site is a large area (14 Ha) of Green Belt land which used to consist of a small playing field for Walton Casuals FC, a large grassed area, and scrub, overlying an old landfill site. The Council planned to ‘remedia...Read More >>
Elmbridge Council has given itself permission to build a sports hub for three private clubs - two rival football clubs and an athletics club in the London Metropolitan Green Belt and a green open space next to the river Thames.
This development will wreck the tranquility, views and enjoyment of one of the most beautiful stretches of the River Thames, popular with cyclists, walkers and boaters alike.
This will result in constant noise for local residents on both banks of the Thames, and spoil visitors’ enjoyment of the riverside paths and pubs.
Matches and crowds will create noise disturbance on both sides of the river, but ironically the Council says they cannot use acoustic screening, because that would conflict with the ‘openness’ of the Green Belt area.
Over 2,500 local people have already signed a petition calling on Elmbridge Council to remove the floodlighting and look for alternative sites away from the banks of the Thames, but the Council brushed it aside. Only a Judicial Review will stop this going ahead and cause the Council to rethink this scheme and prevent this tragic loss of green open space.
The High Court granted permission and the hearing date has been set for 6 December at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand.
Please help us by pledging what you can to save the Green Belt, the river Thames landscape, the wetlands wildlife, the dark skies, access to the countryside, the peace and tranquility of the Thames Path and riverside pubs, and the picturesque setting of the historic village of Sunbury-on-Thames.
WHAT WE ARE FIGHTING FOR
We agree that all sport is a good thing but there are plenty of alternative sites - including the old Stompond Lane Sports Ground which is not in the Green Belt and could easily be brought up to modern standards. But the Council want to sell that off for housing and re-home the football and athletic club at this riverside location.
This part of the Arcadian Thames and the Thames Landscape Strategy which should be cherished with its pubs, the Thames Path and the picturesque village of Sunbury-on-Thames. The views, amenity and setting of St Mary’s church with its Grade II listed tower, and Sunbury’s Conservation Area will be ruined. No thought was given to the effect of locating a Sports Hub at this location.
Yet before granting themselves permission to build this potential white elephant the Council stated that 'it would not have a detrimental impact on the Green Belt’ yet they had refused planning for an indoor Olympic archery training centre in the field next door - stating 'the centre is an inappropriate form of development of significant mass, bulk & scale' to be detrimental to the use, character and openness of the Green Belt.
AERIAL VIEW OF OF THE DEVELOPMENT SITE - taken from the Sunbury side
AERIAL VIEW OF THE DEVELOPMENT SITE - taken from the Walton side.
DEVELOPMENT PLANS OF STADIUM, SPORTS FIELDS AND PARKING
This land is in the Green Belt, which according to the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework is designed to prevent:
- the 'unrestricted sprawl' of large built-up areas,
- safeguard the countryside and
- preserve the setting and special character of historic towns.
The Campaign To Protect Rural England (CPRE Surrey Branch) is supporting this fundraising campaign and case because it is a classic example of the misuse of land in the Green Belt, the essential characteristics of which is its permanence and openness. This means it should be kept free from built development, car parks, astro-turf and structures that destroy the character and erode the policy by turning green fields into brownfield sites ripe for further development.
The light pollution from the Sports hub’s 18-metre high floodlight masts will destroy the dark skies over Sunbury and be visible for miles, affecting night vision for river users and the ability of birds and animals to navigate. They will operate every day of the year, and the river Thames will reflect and magnify the impact of the lighting on this pretty countryside.
The trees in this area are all deciduous and will not screen the floodlights or the buildings during the winter months. This picture shows a single pitch with floodlights.
EXAMPLE OF LIGHTING FOR ONE PITCH - THERE WILL BE SEVEN FOOTBALL PITCHES AND A STADIUM
This development will be four-times the size, with four times the light pollution from floodlights.
The Thomson Ecology report stated that lights should be turned off by 5 pm to protect the wildlife, but Elmbridge plan to operate this until 10 pm (no doubt with overruns) and simply conclude that many species will die as a result of the floodlighting and loss of wildlife habitat.
LOOKING TOWARDS SITE AT NIGHT (Weir Pub to left) - IMAGINE LOOSING THIS DARKNESS
The River Thames is a Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI) which is a vital wildlife corridor for migrating birds, bats, moths and animals close to wetlands of the Bessborough reservoir a designated RAMSAR site. This development will destroy over 40% of the wildlife habitat and the noise and floodlighting will threaten their survival. Being on the outskirts of London this wetland habitat is extremely important as a refuge from the noisy, polluted conglomeration.
Although Elmbridge Council’s own policy states it should protect and enhance the ‘special character of the River Thames landscape’, the Council has swept that aside in order to make money from these linked developments.
Elmbridge Council plan to make over £20 million by selling Walton and Hersham Football Club’s ground at Stompond Lane in the centre of Walton, and make them relocate here (they are currently involved in a separate legal case to fight the termination of their lease). The club doesn’t want to leave their home ground which is close to Walton station making it easy for junior teams to reach after school or for fans attending matches. Sports clubs typically rely on earnings from the bar for vital funding, but this won’t be possible at the Sports hub as three clubs will have to share the same facilities.
There is no public transport to the ‘out-of-town’ Sports facility so the main road from Walton-on-Thames to Molesey will be chronically congested with traffic. Insufficient car parking is planned on site and as a consequence the overall spill will create a huge nuisance to local residents.
Our legal team
We welcome support from anyone concerned with protecting the openness and tranquility of this part of the river Thames, at Sunbury and Walton, resisting the pressures on the Green Belt and highlighting the brazen conduct of a local authority determined to make money out of its green spaces.
We have been acting for some time asking the Government and Council to respect the inherent dangers in opening this area up for development and in the face of local opposition. The Department of Communities and Local Government declined to call-in these proposals.
We have a strong arguable case and have instructed barrister Andrew Parkinson from Landmark Chambers.
Please help us to bring this action to quash the planning permission and force the conflicted council to reconsider both plans to develop Waterside Drive and Stompond Lane.
Richard Buxton Environmental and Public Law.
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Victory for residents as High Court rules on Waterside Drive ‘sports hub’ case – yet the Council’s contractors refuse to halt building works!
The High Court has today ruled that Elmbridge Borough Council’s scheme to develop a ‘sports hub’ at Waterside Drive by the Thames in Walton, was unlawful. The site is a large area (14 Ha) of Green Belt land which used to consist of a small playing field for Walton Casuals FC, a large grassed area, and scrub, overlying an old landfill site. The Council planned to ‘remediate’ the landfill site and redevelop this open space with a facility for three private clubs including artificial playing fields, a stadium, an athletics track and floodlighting. The entire site was to be enclosed by high fencing to prevent public access to the grounds, with a pathway for dog walkers around the perimeter fence. This was part of a grand scheme so as to be able to sell off the Walton and Hersham FC ground and athletics track at Stompond Lane, Walton, for profitable housing.
The judicial review case was brought by Amanda Boot, a resident across the Thames in Sunbury, who was concerned about the effects on her and other residents’ views, as well as noise and light pollution. The basic rule for development in Green Belt is that it should be not be ‘inappropriate’, which means not causing ‘harm to openness’. Andrew Parkinson, counsel for Ms Boot, argued that that the Council had unlawfully decided when granting itself planning permission that there was harm to openness but that the harm was acceptable. Mr Justice Supperstone agreed that this was an unlawful approach and the matter must be re-determined.
Ms Boot said: “I am so pleased that the judge saw fit to rule in our favour on the grounds of this being inappropriate and harmful development in the Green Belt. A huge thank-you to Richard Buxton and his legal team and to everyone else who supported us through CrowdJustice.”
Andy Smith, Surrey Branch Director of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said “CPRE has supported the local campaign against this development since 2015, so we are delighted with today’s judgment. It is vital that we oppose unwanted, unnecessary and inappropriate developments like this, especially when they threaten the openness of the Green Belt and destroy local tranquility. The fact that Elmbridge Council gave itself permission for this Sports Hub development, disregarding Green Belt planning constraints, was a major concern for CPRE and we are pleased that the High Court judgment reflects this.”
Alan Smith, speaking on behalf of Walton and Hersham Football Club, which the Council is trying to evict from its ground at Stompond Lane, said: “This result shows just how ill-thought out the Council’s plans are for sports in Walton and how wrong it is to want to sell off our ground for housing. We and our supporters want to stay put and that is far better for residents and the various other clubs affected. In any case the Council cannot now guarantee us moving to an equivalent ground as required by Sport England.”
The Council started the work knowing that a challenge was being bought and continued with it even after the High Court granted permission to bring the claim. Remarkably, the Council has even now refused to stop work on the development site despite the fact that it now has no planning permission. Richard Buxton, the solicitor for Amanda Boot, said: “In 25 years’ experience of these types of case I have never had any defendant, let alone a council, not immediately abide by a ruling of the High Court like this. The conduct is appalling, offensive to law-abiding citizens, and I can but trust that members of Elmbridge Council will call for an immediate halt to the development when they meet in committee shortly.”
If the Council fails to call a halt to the development, there will be a further hearing in the Court.
UPDATE ON COURT HEARING 6th December
The judicial review was heard in the High Court on Tuesday 6th December. Mr Justice Supperstone listened carefully to argument from our barrister, Mr Andrew Parkinson from Landmark Chambers, and then to Neil Cameron QC representing Elmbridge BC. Unusually in this case the Council are the Planning Authority, the landowner and the developer. The judge reserved his judgment and we expect that this will be handed down in the next few weeks.
Mean while the Council are continuing with the works, pouring concrete and building the Elmbridge Sports Hub at Waterside Drive. They have an alternative planning permission waiting in the wings in the event we are successful and the High Court quash the earlier impugned decision to permit this development on a 14 ha greenfield site by the river Thames.
Kristina Kenworthy, Chair of the Surrey Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England in support of us said, “This is an important Green Belt case and relies on the correct interpretation of the NPPF paragraph 89. We are very concerned about the urbanising effects of these developments encroaching on precious green spaces under the guise of exempted outdoor recreational facilities. A sports pavilion sounds innocent enough but when considered with all the other paraphernalia to accommodate three private clubs, a very different picture emerges. We cannot think that the government meant the Green Belt could be sacrificed just because the sports are played in the open air. The important point about Green Belt land is keeping it open permanently.
We will update this page as soon as we have judgment.
Thank you for your support.
Judicial review on 6 December
Elmbridge Council seem to realise they are in trouble with this case and should never have granted planning permission for the development on the basis that it was “not inappropriate” in the Green Belt. They have been remediating the old landfill site (to which there can be no objection) but want to carry on with completing the sports hub before the Court has time to stop them.
The judicial review case is coming up on 6 December and with the prospect of the planning permission being quashed, and the work forced to stop, Elmbridge recently put in a new planning application (to itself) which is the same as the existing one but with some quite minor amendments, and then asked the Court to adjourn the hearing of the case until after the new application was decided sometime next year.
Mr Justice Ouseley in the High Court last week would have none of this ruse: the request for an adjournment was refused.
We need to get on and win the case on 6 December and ensure that the site is open land and available for the public. Although that bit of the case is relatively straightforward, we are fighting a council that, in reality, carries the baggage from its previous administration. Under the former leader, who lost his seat in May, the council was hell-bent on putting the Sports Hub at Waterside Drive in order to be able to sell off the football ground at Stompond Lane nearer the centre of Walton for housing.
The two projects are remain inextricably linked and more complicated legal work is needed to ensure that there is a lawful and sensible outcome. Councillors need to understand that there is nothing legally or politically forcing either the sale of Stompond Lane or the move of the clubs to Waterside Drive. If the case succeeds, work has to stop on the Sports Hub, and it would be a crying shame if the Hersham and Walton Football Club has been needlessly evicted from Stompond Lane and the site levelled in readiness for 52 houses - for which there is no permission yet.
Funding has been coming in, Thank You everyone who has contributed so far, but we are still well short of what is needed. This is perhaps partly because residents around Stompond Lane are fearful that this is a done deal and there is nothing to fight for. But that is not the case. London Square’s offer is, we believe, conditional upon getting permission for housing at a higher density. The football club can only be torn down if Waterside Drive is ready and so, in the event we win on 6th, everything will be back in play. The loss of the old Sports Ground at Stompond.Lane has far reaching implications for residents of the former Ashley Estate in leafy Walton on Thames.
So, continuing help will be much appreciated. We are fighting in the interests of people from both sides of the Thames, in Sunbury and Walton, who appreciate the Green Belt, who see it as quite wrong for the open space at Waterside Drive to be enclosed, and who also see potential overdevelopment, including serious traffic problems, at Stompond Lane. Together we can make Elmbridge councillors re-consider this Sports Hub project and and find ways to protect our very special environment in the interests of everyone.
PLEASE CONTINUE TO SUPPORT THIS CASE BY PLEDGING AND SHARING WITH OTHERS. THANK YOU.
We hit our first target!
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