St Helens school to open its playing fields to the public
De La Salle school says the scheme is about sharing its facilities with the community, rather than making extra moneyby Kenny Lomas, Local Democracy Reporter
St Helens school told it can open its sports pitches to the public in the evenings
Plans to open a St Helens school's play area to the wider community have been approved.
The application was heard by St Helens Council’s planning committee on Tuesday night.
An existing planning condition attached to the MUGA (multi-use games area) at De La Salle school states it only be used for school purposes and specified activities.
The school sought to remove this condition and vary a separate condition relating to the opening times to allow it to be used outside of school hours.
The school proposed to extend the opening times to 9am to 9.30pm during the week; 9am to 6pm on Saturdays and 9am to 3pm on Sundays.
A second application seeking planning permission for eight, 14m high floodlights was also heard by the planning committee on Tuesday.
According to the planning report, the extension of hours and installation of floodlighting is to utilise the MUGA for raising additional funds for the school.
The report says the school has received a number of enquiries regarding use of the MUGA in the evenings, however providing this service has to date always been declined.
But De La Salle site manager Ian Fairweather told councillors the move is more about opening up the facilities to the community than about making money.
Mr Fairweather said the school is effectively “discriminating” against parts of the community as sports clubs aren’t allowed to rent the MUGA, while others can use the surrounding grass pitches.
“The demand from the community is great,” Mr Fairweather said.
“An example being Blackbrook Rugby Club wanted to part-fund the floodlights so they can have some winter training.
“It’s not about funding for the school, it’s about opening our facilities to the community and letting everybody enjoy them.”
Mr Fairweather told the committee he was not even aware there were planning restrictions attached to the MUGA until the current planning process began.
He even candidly admitted to the school breaching planning conditions relating to the MUGA “on a number of occasions”.
Liberal Democrat councillor Michael Haw objected to the plans on behalf or residents in Eccleston due to the impact it will have on nearby properties.
Addressing the committee in the public speakers section, Cllr Haw said the proposal to extend the opening hours of the MUGA pitch to 9.30pm on a weekday and to extend use to the weekend was “unacceptable”.
Cllr Haw argued that both applications should be deferred “at the very least” to enable the school to provide more specific detail about its plans for the site and to enable a planning committee site visit.
He said if this cannot be facilitated then the both plans should be rejected by the committee.
Cllr Haw said: “I think if members were to see just how close the pitch would be to properties in Alder Hey Road, Ackers Lane and the lower end of Long Meadow, then I think they might just realise just how disruptive this development could be.
“If this request cannot be satisfied then on behalf of the residents that have contacted me who I represent I will request that this planning application and sister planning application be refused outright by this planning committee.”
Thatto Heath Labour councillor Richard McCauley, cabinet member economic regeneration and housing, said there is a shortage or facilities for sports clubs to train after the fire at Thatto Heath Crusaders’ training barn in January.
Cllr McCauley, who is also a trustee and committee member of Thatto Heath Crusaders, said he understood residents’ concerns but believed these are outweighed by the benefits to the community allowing the plans would bring.
Planning chairman Seve Gomez-Aspron said any asset a school has that can be monetised can be invested back into the school.
Labour councillor Robyn Hattersley said De La Salle School has lost round £111 per pupil, per year, through austerity.
“Any extra revenue into the school would be beneficial, therefore I’d support this application,” she said.
Liberal Democrat councillor Geoff Pearl said he had concerns about the impact of the floodlights on nearby properties and asked if the opening hours council be amended.
Proposals were put forward on the first application by Cllr Gomez-Aspron to add a condition to amend the opening hours to a 9pm finish during the week and a 10am start on the weekend.
Planning permission was granted for both applications subject to various conditions.