It will be one year and two days since Countrywide Developments tactically submitted their application for housing redevelopment of Belle Vue with an aim of having it completed March 2020.
However, Friends of Belle Vue and Startrax together with people from our oval community came together and we have fought furiously since 18th December Simon and I have met the planners 3 times, I have compiled and edited a huge number of reports, we have met MP's and basically lobbied and lobbied more. Month by month we have been surprised that the application had not been listed and eventually achieved our object of completing 2019 season and protecting the livelihoods of staff at the stadium and who have been loyal. We have received tremendous assistance from Michael Burnage MBE, a seasoned and experienced campaigner who has certainly been my right hand man and we feel justifiably proud of what we have done.
However, the development is now listed for this Thursday 17th December at 2.pm at Manchester City Hall where 15 people on the planning department will decide it's future. The planning department has in recent days indicated that they have recommended the development for approval which whilst not a shock, never less is a major disappointment and for the staff at Belle Vue, unfortunate timing just before Christmas. I have spent two days preparing the document I share below as a final missive to the planning committee. We have made it public to demonstrate that we have fought to the end. In terms of of various points raised during the last 12 months and below, this application SHOULD be rejected, the developers responses have been weak and lacking substance and whilst we understand the 'need' for houses, Manchester currently has a 5 year supply.
It is not useful to speculate. We will be attending the planning meeting, we have an allotted slot of 5 minutes to present our case as will the developers and Simon has opted to do this. Realistically, we believe that the recommendation will not be overturned and that the application will be approved. Not a shock and to have achieved the full 2019 season against the odds provides some satisfaction.
However, be assured, even if this decision goes against us, we are confident that racing will commence in March 2020 until at least June - with 6 months notice required and as Startrax we have renewed our own planning permission. BUT - whilst this is disappointing the Fat Lady will not yet have sung and we still have a plan B which at the moment we cannot reveal in terms of a further initiative to 'save' the stadium but we will only have a short window for this. We also could seek a High Court judicial review of the decision given the material points we believe are valid, however, we will have to take further advice on this as it will be hugely costly.
So, we are optimistic we will still see some racing for a period in Manchester - but we feel post Thursday there may be some twists and turns remaining.
Obviously, the news has caused considerable social media comment - I did smile at one from our speedway friends who clearly worry that we may move next door, something we have not even examined or discussed as yet as our priority has been to protect and save what we have got, BUT if all else fails along the line, we will be attempting to engage with the City Council to assist in protecting the sport in the city. One of our speedway friends on social media seemed confident that we had approached the council to run our sport at the adjacent NSS and that Sport England had objected. Let me be very clear, to date we have not spoken to, formally or informally, anyone from the City Council to the speedway operators about possibilities next door. Therefore what could Sport England object to ? And, on what grounds as oval racing is a sport of human endeavour - Fake News. That said, if all else fails we will be working to find a create opportunity to preserve our sport wherever that may eventually arise.
We welcome moral support in the public galleries Thursday - it has been a protracted, intensive and at times 'bloody' battle that has consumed life and closure one way will be welcome. At times it has been difficult with challenges from extremist groups whom have an opinion and a right to such, it has not just been about oval racing.
We have done ALL that we can do now, we feel that local media has been prejudiced and we also feel the decision is political but that may me being tired, wiped out and bitter - BUT we fight as far as this can go.
BUT whatever, WE STILL remain enthusiastic about our sport and 2020, we are making progress, albeit slow, with our potential new site as we navigate the path to take with planning, we have a meeting at Sheffield on the 11th January - and of course we have some great and exciting events for 2020 of which we will talk about early in the New Year.
For now we focus on Thursday, keep strong, but it may be worth A LAST PUSH in e-mailing the Mayor in huge numbers, Mr Andy Burnham, he cannot get involved in the actual planning process but he can have a say once a decision is taken - Whatever it takes to get this job done, we have nothing to lose!
Below is the document I have today circulated to demonstrate the strength of our argument which, may unjustly have been ignored, but we have put the final laps and miles in. As they say, In God we trust
SUBMISSION to MCC / Planning Committee
FAO: Planning Committee in advance of Meeting Thursday 19th December at 2.pm
Planning Application - Development of Belle Vue Greyhound Stadium for Housing Scheme.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY RESPONSE TO PLANNING COMMITTEE MEMBERS - We urge that you please read and understand the responses below to the recommendation for planning approval. Presented by Friends of Belle Vue and Startrax Oval Motorsport Ltd
Before you is a document containing over 90 pages relating to the development of the above stadium submitted on the 17th December 2018.
The fact that this application has taken one year and two days to reach the planning meeting for a decision is indicative of the sheer volume of correspondence and genuine interest in the retention of this iconic stadium together, more importantly with the lack of quality of the original application and supporting reports from the developer. This has not improved in response to questions asked and may well have been rejected had it been heard as originally scheduled in March.
It should be noted as this is highly relevant, the occupiers, GRA Limited, have a clause within their lease that at no point may they comment or defend their activities at the site, to do so would result in the forfeiture of their lease. Whilst this may not be uncommon on leasehold land, with regards such a vital community asset it has stymied Friends of Belle Vue and Startrax in terms of gaining support and financial information from GRA Ltd as their ongoing business would be prejudiced. In essence, this is a 'gagging' clause which you should consider as of importance.
It is disappointing to note that in the planners ‘weighting’ towards housing many submissions and reports are missing, an impact assessment from Mark Bird, MD of GBGB , stating how many jobs would be lost and how the closure would impact on greyhound rehoming centres illustrates just one.
The then Animal Welfare Minister, David Rutley MP, wrote two letters with concerns regarding rehoming of vast numbers of greyhounds and the official reply from Jeni Regan stated that animal welfare is not a matter of consideration for planning applications, if this is the case, why have animal welfare submissions been taken?
The committee report does not adequately refer to the Governing Bodies submissions indicating a continuing need for the motorsports ,a pretty big omission!
The report fails to identify that Sport England were not aware of the motorsport use when they submitted their original representations. The SE argument about recognised sports is unviable even if only a common sense assessment is undertaken. A planning inspector elsewhere has cited that stock car racing falls under the auspicies of Sport England, again submitted
These are serious omissions.
We also question the justification in recommending this application for approval. It is acknowledged the importance of the site however a key reason seems to be weighted around ‘noise’ and amenity and activities from the stadium. Yet it fails to mention the same noise and amenity issues exists from the Council owned stadium adjacent only opened in 2016. The fact that Speedway had been at the Greyhound stadium since 1927, one of the first homes for this new sport, stock car racing has been in the area since 1954 and at the Greyhound stadium since 1999. Worthy of note is that even today, between the two venues, less motorsport events are actually staged overall compared to the mid 1990’s. We do not see this as reasonable justification. The stadium itself has been in existence and popular since 1926.
The need for housing plays into the planning balance BUT the site is not allocated in the development plan and Manchester already has a five year supply so the need is not pressing.
The affordable housing is also played up yet the proposed agreement already appears to write in for the developers a get-out clause. Of course this would not be applied until after the demolition has occurred as suggested elsewhere and of course, too late to save this iconic stadium
We also seriously question the developers 'viability' report.
1. The scope of this development would normally be the subject of an 'outline planning application. However under the terms of the lease agreement between GRA Ltd and Crown Oil pension fund, there is a singular break clause in the lease providing a six month notice period subject to 'full planning' consent.
2. It is our fear that this application may be requested to vary after consent is permitted - and the stadium is demolished based on viability. Once demolished, on behalf of the occupiers, there is little recourse for the present occupiers to object, the community asset has been demolished.
3. We feel that the developers viability report is bereft of fact and requires further interrogation. The price the land is being acquired for development appears 'far too reasonable' given the purchase price originally when Crown Oil acquired the freehold. At this price, Startrax and Friends of Belle Vue would almost certainly be able to find investors to retain this asset for the long-term.
4. The yield to the developer, whilst within acceptable 'average' clearly leaves little room for margin and amendment and specifically states that no funds would be available for a section 106 to protect the amenity within the region. The provision for affordable housing is very much on the 'margin' of acceptance. One can only speculate on potential amendments and extra costs incurred since with requirements raised by Sport England pertinent to the adjoining Sports Village,
Solely based upon the above, we believe that this application should be refused.
The stadium is described as a ' former Greyhound Stadium' in the application, wholly inaccurate as it continues, as it has since the 1920's to be a viable and popular destination, currently running over 150 race events a season and events transmitted to over 40 countries across the globe. Indeed, it is operating more events than at many periods of it's existence. It is also one of the most popular stock car racing venues in Mainland Europe attracting families and visitors locally and from a wide area. Much has been said about lack of investment in the site, which has been addressed and the GRA business is now owned by proven investors in the sport together with other interested parties in terms of investment in the site in the future.
Manchester once boasted 5 Greyhound venues [ and venues for stock car racing ] and now, only Belle Vue exists. To allow it's redevelopment as part and parcel of the fabric of Manchester with Greyhounds first launching in 1926 and stock car racing in 1954 would be comparable to wiping out the vibrant and historic 'music' scene in the city for which it is also renowned.
Friend's of Belle Vue and stock car racing operators Startrax Ltd have provided detailed submissions, many endorsed by relevant MP's in government departments with regards many legal points pertaining to this application.
Such correspondence has not, in most cases, been adequately responded to by the Developers, certainly in key areas of the provisions of paragraph 97 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)” which are very clear in their purpose, to protect sports and leisure venues. The provisions of paragraph 97 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)”. require a robust needs assessment and viability study, neither of which have been addressed adequately. The quality of the developers response is poor and without substance and therefore merit.
The stadium is not only the sole remaining venue for Greyhound and stock car racing within the region, it is well supported, viable and the operating company has in recent months been acquired by a proven investor in sport, Arena Leisure and the stadium would be looking towards a period of significant investment. Many millions have been invested in stadiums around the UK in recent years underlining the viability of the sport.
The suggestion that the proposal, on balance, is compliant with the development plan is questionable. It appears to rely on financial assumptions about declining viability. It is well known that sports facilities do not work to usual financial rules and often means that sports are supported, for example, through sponsorship.
The need for housing plays into the planning balance BUT the site is not allocated in the development plan and Manchester already has a five year supply so the need is not pressing.
The affordable housing is also played up yet the proposed agreement already appears to write in their get-out clause. Of course this would not be applied until after the demolition has occurred!
The provisions of paragraph 97 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) are clear that they require sound argument to prove that it is no longer required and the activities contained within it are no longer required. That has not been proven. quite the contrary, there has been overwhelming response.
In this case, section 97 states that a meeting between the occupiers, the council and the developers should have taken place to identify that, if planning is approved, an alternative site and venue should be identified so the activities may continue. This discussion has not taken place and the developers admit in their own viability report that margin is tight and there may be no provision for a section 106 agreement to allow this to happen. This is a legal requirement.
This argument and legal requirement seems to have been ignored and 'weighted against'
There also exists a covenant dating back to the late 1800's from the original Belle Vue leisure park deeming that this land must be retained for 'leisure', it cannot be ignored as Manchester City Council addressed this in 2013 when developing the adjacent Belle Vue sports Village. It is disingenuous to suggest that the sports village be built yet the adjacent stadium on the same land may be surrendered.
An asset of community value was legally approved by Manchester City Council in recent years with 'Friends of Belle Vue' originated to fight against the demise of such iconic and legacy stadiums. That too, seems to have been weighted against thereby meaning that the only option open to those protecting the stadium may be a probably prohibitive cost wise High Court legal challenge by means of review.
The report before you regrettably is inadequate, in many cases 'flawed' and lacking substance in several key areas. Other City councils have identified that these stadiums are disappearing, in recent months, Oxford City Council have opposed the development of the Cowley stadium and are looking into compulsory purchase to enable it to re open for Greyhound racing and motorsport. Similarly Rugby Council have opposed the redevelopment of Brandon Stadium, Rugby since 2016 and the stadium remains with efforts again being supported for it's re opening. We sincerely look to the planning committee to think very carefully at such decisions and the impact of the loss of this stadium in terms of the industry, employment and what it provides to the community in terms of being unique, well supported and provides incremental income.
In conclusion, we respectfully suggest that the arguments for redevelopment are inadequate, bereft of fact and fall well short of the requirements of aforementioned section 97.
We strongly urge that this application is 'refused' as there is no merit when compared to the alternate arguments and specific requirements. These activities must be protected for the future, granting the application today means this facility and it's potential will be lost forever.
The stadiums freehold is retained by Crown oil Pension fund who have in the past publicly stated it's yield is satisfactory. It has a remaining number of years on it's lease. A refusal or deferment would enable proper discussion to ensue in re siting the activities as per paragraph 97 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)
We acknowledge that Greyhound racing has it's detractors with an activist group being relatively successful in it's rhetoric lobbying against the sport with council members. However, much of this argument is hugely emotional and inaccurate and has been answered by the relevant government ministers, departments and industry professionals who endeavour to ensure the sport is 'safe and humane. This decision must not be based upon emotional rhetoric that is distorted and from activists. This is a legal industry and activity.
As Startrax and FoB we are not ignorant to the requirement and urgent need for housing. What we are suggesting is 'not here,not now'
Once it has been passed for redevelopment and demolished, there is not time for reflection. Please protect this huge community asset which is the last remaining remnant of Belle Vue's illustrious legacy heritage,
Understanding the legalities of Paragraph 97 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and many other submissions contained within the bundle, it should prove conclusive that this application should be rejected to avoid all parties the cost and time involved in a potential full judicial review.
Steve Rees, Startrax Oval Motorsport Ltd & Simon Walmlsey Friends of Belle Vue