Hereford Rugby Club has had its hopes of entering the sport’s top flight boosted after it defeated a High Court challenge to its ambitious plans to fund a new sports ground on the city’s unspoilt edge by enabling the development of 190 new homes.
In the biggest development seen in the city in modern times, the club plans to leave its existing ground on the banks of the River Wye and move to a state-of-the-art new home on nearby farmland. The proposals, which encompass a 20-hectare site, include a string of world-class pitches, all-weather training facilities, a 400-seater stand, an indoor training facility and a car park with 250 spaces.
In partnership with developers Bloor Homes Limited, the project will be financed by construction of 190 new homes – 35 per cent of them affordable – and the local planning authority, Herefordshire Council, will also benefit by inheriting the club’s old ground at a nominal price.
Council officers recommended that planning permission for the scheme be refused, expressing concerns about the landscape and visual impact on orchards that have marked the city’s boundaries for centuries. However, members of the council’s planning committee went their own way and granted planning consent.
Hampton Bishop Parish Council – within whose area the project falls – mounted a judicial review challenge to the committee’s decision. It claimed, amongst other things, that irrelevant factors had been taken into account and that the decision flew in the face of local planning policies.
The parish council claimed that the committee members should have put entirely out of their minds the prospect of Herefordshire Council obtaining the club’s old ground effectively free. However, the Court found that that arrangement was ‘directly related’ to the overall development scheme and had been rightly taken into account by the committee as a ‘relevant planning consideration’.
Correctly focusing on the economic viability of the scheme and the future of the game of rugby in Hereford, the committee had accepted that the housing development was necessary to fund a project which the club would otherwise never have been able to afford.
The committee had properly considered alternative sites before concluding that only an out-of-town location would be viable and, in dismissing the parish council’s case, the Court found that the committee was entitled to take a flexible approach to the complex issues involved and had adequately taken into account the development’s environmental impact.