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Falling School Roll Spells Trouble for Monarchs

Armadale - Under Threat?

A falling roll at a West Lothian school could have severe consequences for the Edinburgh Monarchs.

The owners of their Armadale Stadium home have submitted a fresh application for "planning permission in principle" to demolish the stadium and replace it with housing. The application is identical to one they submitted in June 2016 and which the council rejected in January of this year.

The council rejected the application with the following explanation:

"There is insufficient education infrastructure provision at Armadale Primary School to serve the proposed housing on the site. The proposal is therefore contrary to policies IMP 3 (education infrastructure) and IMP 14 (supplementary planning guidance) of the West Lothian Local Plan and the council's supplementary planning guidance Planning for Education."

There had been a general expectation that the council would also reject the application due to the impact on the Monarchs. The council had been strong supporters of the club since they moved into the area, recognising the benefits that a successful sporting team can bring in both economic and non-tangible terms.

Back in 2009 there had been a proposal to build a supermarket on the site and the council had been insistent that providing a replacement speedway facility would be a condition of any approval. They were rather less supportive in their comments on the 2016 application:

"While the site is an urban sports facility in terms of policy COM2, it is of limited value as it has only one use for speedway racing. The applicant advises that the speedway operator is not willing to enter into a lease agreement. In these circumstances, it is considered that the speedway operator appears to not show a great degree of commitment to the site and it is unreasonable to expect the owner of the stadium to continue with this unsustainable commercial model. "

"On balance, it is considered that there is insufficient conflict with policy COM 2 to merit refusal of the application on grounds of loss of an urban sports facility due to its limited importance for recreation and the apparent limited interest of the speedway operator to secure a lease of the stadium."

Nonetheless, the application was rejected and the future of the Monarchs seemed to have been secured for the medium term.

Unfortunately the stadium owners have not given up and have now reapplied less than 9 months on.

A (rather one-sided) planning statement in support of the application, explains the reasoning:

"The application is identical to an earlier application by the same applicant at the same site which was submitted in July 2016 under planning application 0472/P/16 which was refused consent solely on education infrastructure grounds due to the lack of capacity at Armadale Primary School at the time the application was being considered."

"New figures for school rolls and capacities, based on the situation at the start of the new school year, indicate that the school will now have the capacity to accommodate the proposed development consequently the proposal will no longer be contrary to policy IMP3 Education Infrastructure and thus accords with all the relevant local plan policies."

"Full pre-application, neighbour and formal consultations were undertaken just a year ago for an identical application and no objections were received."

"In light of the above it is concluded that due to the changes in education capacities there is now no justifiable reason to refuse the application and would therefore as that the application be approved. (sic)"

Clearly if the council had rejected the application on grounds other than the lack of school capacity, then it's unlikely this application would have been brought forward so quickly.

It seems extraordinary that the number of places available at the local schools have increased so much in a single year that a whole new housing estate can be accommodated. A particular concern will be that new housing developments tend to attract young families who will initially have an above average impact on the school roll. Unless the council took an exceptionally short-term view of school capacity last year, there could be strong grounds to challenge the application on this point.

The applicant is also understandably keen not to revisit any of the other possible objections to the application. These would include the loss of the stadium as a recreational facility and as open space.

During the consultation period for the earlier application three speedway fans reportedly attended a presentation on the plans. The applicant's summary of the event concluded:

"No issues were raised that require to be addressed at this time. The Speedway enthusiasts commented that they would not like to see the facility disappear. At present the Monarchs do not wish to commit to a lease and are only on a periodic rental from March to October. However it is not the intention of the Stadium owner to stop the speedway from taking place. "

"The whole reason for this application is to avoid a re-designation of the site in the emerging Local Development Plan to an inappropriate Open Space Designation. The owner feels that Planning permission in Principle for Residential development would actually protect his investment in the Stadium for a longer period of time and give piece of mind that if the Stadium were to close another use could be found for the site."

The same 'spin' about protecting land values and it being a 'good thing' for the stadium is notably absent this time around.

The language used in that summary is also interesting, with speedway enthusiasts seemingly "commenting" rather than "objecting". An obvious attempt to play down the strength of feeling amongst the speedway community.

At this stage this is purely an attempt to establish the principle that the land could be used for housing, but it would be naive in the extreme to assume that a full planning application or a sale of the land would not immediately follow.

You can review and comment on the application at the following link:

https://planning.westlothian.gov.uk/publicaccess/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=OVSOU9RJGAW00

Objections should be based on valid planning reasons, emotional responses will carry a limited value and may be totally disregarded. The concerns of local residents will obviously be of most interest to the council, but those that travel from afar and make use of the shops, garages and hotels in the area may wish to point out the wider benefits the Monarchs bring to region.

 

This article was first published on 25th September 2017

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