Is Church Langley set to profit from loss of green space in Purford Green?

News / Mon 31st May 2021 at 11:32am

ON SUNDAY, we published the plans to build 35 new homes on the former site of Purford Green primary school.

The matter will be discussed at the next Harlow Council planning committee meeting on Tuesday June 8th.

However, we did notice in planning application that the loss of the school playing field is set to be “mitigated” by plans to improve fields over a mile away in the bucolic paradise that is Church Langley.

The relevant section is below.

We have contacted two of the Labour councillors for the Bush Fair ward (cllrs Eugenie Harvey and Jodie Dunne) and await their reply.

Sport England

In summary, the planning application involves a residential development of 35 dwellings on the former Purford Green Junior School site which closed in 2013 following its amalgamation with the adjoining Purford Green Infant School to form a combined Purford Green Primary School. The redevelopment of the former school site would result in the loss of the school’s playing field. While use of the playing field by the former Purford Green Junior School formally ceased in 2013, it is understood that the adjoining Purford Green Primary School were able to use the playing field on an informal basis (as the playing field was not fenced off from the primary school site) until it was fenced off in 2018. The playing field is understood to have not been used since March 2018. As set out in the applicant’s letter dated 3rd February 2021, the loss of the former Purford Green Junior School playing field is proposed to be mitigated by a financial contribution that would be used towards new or enhanced playing pitch or sports pavilion provision at Harlow Council’s Church Langley Country Park.

Assessment against Sport England Policy

The applicant has engaged with Sport England and Harlow Council at pre-application stage and during the determination of the planning application with a view to developing a playing field mitigation package that would accord with our policy. The current package is set out in abovementioned letter and, in summary, involves:

  •   A financial contribution of £75,708 being paid to Harlow Council that would be used towards either playing pitch improvements or new/enhanced sports pavilion provision at the Council’s nearby Church Langley Country Park to help implement priority playing field projects identified in Harlow Council’s Playing Pitch Strategy & Action Plan and the Harlow Local Football Facilities Plan;
  •   The financial contribution being secured through a section 106 agreement and paid to the Council prior to commencement of development;
  •   The financial contribution being required to be spent by the Council on the project(s) at Church Langley Country Park within 5 years of receipt of the contribution.Exception 4 of Sport England’s playing fields policy permits the loss of playing fields if the playing field that would be lost as a result of the proposed development would be replaced by a playing field of equivalent or better quality and of equivalent or greater quantity, in a suitable location and subject to equivalent or better management arrangements, prior to the commencement of development. When assessed against this exception (which is consistent with paragraph 97(b) of the NPPF), the package would not entirely accord with the policy. This is because the proposal to make a financial contribution that would be used towards enhanced playing pitches or sports pavilion provision at Church Langley Park, would not deliver a replacement playing field of equivalent or greater quantity to the playing field that is being lost on the application site because the contribution would be used towards enhancing the facilities at an existing playing field site rather than creating a new playing field. Furthermore, due to the potential time lag between development starting on the playing fields on the application site and the mitigation projects (that would be funded by the financial contribution) being delivered, the replacement playing fields would not be expected to be available prior to development commencing on the playing fields that would be lost.

While the mitigation package that has been offered would not fully accord with exception 4, the following considerations which apply specifically to this case are significant to my assessment:

  •   The playing field is no longer needed for educational use since the former Purford Green Junior School closed in 2013 and while the adjoining Purford Green Primary School used the playing field on an occasional informal basis up until 2018, the primary school has its own playing fields which are understood to be sufficient for meeting the school’s educational needs. The playing field is now disused and has not been maintained for three years.
  •   The playing field is only 2,162 square metres in size and due to the limited area and its irregular shape, it would only be possible to accommodate a single mini 5v5 football pitch on the space available. Furthermore, since the former Purford Green Junior School was closed the buildings have not been maintained and are in a poor state of repair awaiting demolition.
  • Based on Sport England’s experience, it is considered very unlikely (if the proposed development was not approved and implemented) that Essex County Council, as the landowner, would open up the playing field for formal sports use (i.e. for bookings by sport teams) by the community and maintain it to the required standard given the associated maintenance costs and management requirements together with the limited revenue generating potential to offset these costs. Furthermore, a single 5v5 mini soccer pitch site with no toilet and refreshment facilities would not usually be attractive to community youth football clubs to use because clubs prefer larger multi-pitch sites where multiple teams within the club can play at the same time and which are supported by toilet and refreshment facilities. In view of these considerations that apply to this particular site, the principle of enhancing the quality of the facilities on an existing community playing field would be considered to offer more benefits to community sport than seeking to safeguard the former school playing field for potential formal sports use by the community in the future;
  •   Harlow Council’s Playing Pitch Strategy (2018) has identified that some of the current demand for football pitches can be accommodated through enhancements to existing pitches and facilities and the strategy recommends (Recommendation 3) that its action plan be used to prioritise pitch and ancillary facilities enhancements with priority being given to multi-pitch sites and proposed football hub sites.
  • Church Langley Country Park provides one of Harlow’s largest multi-pitch Council owned playing fields which has been marked out for 8 football pitches of different sizes and a cricket square. The Playing Pitch Strategy rated the quality of the pitches and the changing facilities at this site as being poor with most of the pitches being overplayed. The strategy’s action plan identified the site as a high priority within Harlow for investment in relation to improving the quality of football and cricket pitches and improving the pavilion. The Harlow Local Football Facilities Plan (2018) that was prepared by the Football Foundation in consultation with the Council following the completion of the Playing Pitch Strategy also identified Church Langley

Country Park as one of the priorities in Harlow for enhanced natural turf pitch provision and changing facility provision. Harlow Council’s proposal that the financial contribution be used towards implementing either playing pitch or pavilion enhancements at this site would therefore be consistent with the Playing Pitch Strategy and Local Football Facilities Plan’s priorities for addressing playing field deficiencies. Using the proposed financial contribution to help address these deficiencies would be considered to offer greater benefits to community sport than safeguarding the playing field on the application site given the considerations outlined above.

Furthermore, as Church Langley Country Park is a local authority owned site there is more certainty offered that any investment into this site will deliver long term benefits to the local community than being invested into maintaining a former school playing field site that is not controlled by the Council. The Football Foundation and Essex County FA are also supportive of the financial contribution being used for delivering these projects. Church Langley Country Park is also one of the closer Council owned public playing fields to the application site.

 The proposed financial contribution that has been proposed is considered to be appropriate in terms of its amount for providing a replacement playing field that would be equivalent or better in quantity and quality to the playing field that would be lost. The proposed contribution would be equivalent to the current capital cost (based on Sport England’s average facility costings) of providing a playing field equivalent in area (2.162 ha) to that which would be lost in accordance with Sport England’s design guidance together with the cost associated with providing some basic toilet/refreshment facilities. Consequently, the scale of the financial contribution proposed would be adequate for delivering a replacement playing field that would meet exception 4 of our policy;

 As the former school’s playing field has been out of use since 2018, on this occasion it is not essential that the replacement facilities funded by the financial contribution are completed and operational in advance of development commencing because there is not a need to provide continuity of provision for an existing playing field user.

On the basis of the above considerations, while I am of the view that the proposed playing field mitigation would broadly meet the intention of exception 4 of our policy, I am satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist to justify a departure from our playing fields policy on this occasion in relation to the proposal not according with the equivalent or greater quantity and continuity of use criteria in exception 4 on the basis of the considerations set out above that apply specifically to this proposal.

Conclusions and Recommendation

In conclusion, it is considered that while the proposed playing field mitigation package would not fully accord with exception 4 of our policy, on this occasion based on the specific considerations set out above which are unique to this proposal, a departure to our policy in relation to expecting all of the criteria in the exception 4 to be met is considered to be justified. I can therefore confirm that Sport England makes no objection to the planning application as a statutory consultee.

We drew the application’ s attention to Bush Fair councillor, Jodie Dunne. He said: “I think if I were on the Development Management committee I would personally vote against a motion if I thought one ward would benefit to the detriment of another, wherever the wards were in Harlow.”

Cllr Eugenie Harvey did not respond.

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