‘Too little sporting provision’: Sport England’s verdict

We’ve already blogged about the lack of ‘sporting intensification’ problem with ‘community club’ AFC Wimbledon’s plans for Plough Lane.

It turns out that Sport England agrees with us .

Yes, the proposal is for a 20,000-seat football stadium, but it will be closed to the public unless they’re attending matches, and the team trains elsewhere. Neither is there any talk of using the new facility for children’s courses which already take place in locations within Merton borough.

The only other sporting provision on-site under the planning application is for the refurbished squash club/gym which currently exists beside the current greyhound stadium but will be moved and stripped of its parking.

So it was interesting to read the official submission to Merton planners from Sport England, which has assessed the AFC Wimbledon/Galliard Homes application according to its land use planning policy statement ‘Planning for sport aims and objectives’.

To be fair, it does express limited support for the stadium plan, for reasons including the following:

‘The FA and London FA are fully supportive of the stadium development plans at Plough Lane, AFC Wimbledon, as it (sic) will increase capacity and drive up attendances at matches, enhance the fans (sic) match day experience whilst improving the financial stability of the club…’

It is unimpressed, however, by the lack of sporting facilities provided for local communities, which mean the AFCW proposals for Plough Lane fail Sport England’s own adopted planning policy objectives. It states in its published submission:

‘Sport England considers that new developments should be required to contribute towards meeting the demand they generate through the provision of on-site facilities and/or providing additional capacity off-site.’

It adds: ‘Sport England seeks to ensure that the development  meets any new sport facility needs arising as a result of the development.’

Usefully, the organisation has a sports facilities calculator that it applies to new housing developments in order to work out how much demand will be put on leisure facilities by residents. In the case of the 602-dwelling development in Plough Lane, it calculates that residents will generate a demand for:

  • 0.08 swimming pools (which it costs at £283,497)
  • 0.11 sports halls (£343,733)
  • 0.01 indoor bowls centres (£25,269)
  • 0.05 artificial turf pitches (£51,632G or £45,506 Sand).

‘Furthermore,’ Sport England adds, ‘the requirement for natural turf playing pitch provision arising from the proposed population should be considered.’

Its conclusion? ‘In light of the above, Sport England wishes to object to this aspect of the proposed development.’ 

It’ a big shame (and somewhat ironic) for a community club like AFC Wimbledon that its development plans fail on community grounds because it simply isn’t providing enough sporting provision for people who live in the area.

It remains to be seen whether the club offers to pay Merton Borough Council on an ongoing basis to help fund the above facilities as Sport England suggests. Or even better, revises its plans to cut the housing element and fulfil Merton Borough Council’s original ambitions for Plough Lane as a site of ‘sporting intensification’.


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