Concerns over future of Yare Valley and local rugby after Norwich Rugby Club move to UEA given green light

UEA Sports ground. Picture: Mike Page

UEA Sports ground. Picture: Mike Page

Concerns over the future of the Yare Valley and viability of small rugby clubs have been overridden in favour of creating a 'world-class' sports facility at the UEA.

Phil Steele, director of sport at the UEA. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Phil Steele, director of sport at the UEA. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

After members of the South Norfolk District Council planning committee gave the plans the green light yesterday, Norwich Rugby Club could move to the university within two years.

The plans to construct extra pitches and a clubhouse straddling the existing playing fields had sparked furious debate all year, with thousands of people signing petitions or lodging comments.

Opinions within the UEA were equally divided. 500 students signed a petition in favour of the scheme yet some professors and staff in humanities formed a lobbying group against it.

Serious concerns have also been raised within the local rugby community.

Crusaders RFC, based two miles from the UEA at Little Melton, said the move will 'threaten our existence'

Nick Loone, secretary of the Crusaders, told the meeting rugby provision in the city will now suffer.

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'The applicants have shown themselves to exhibit little regard for Norfolk rugby and there is a high degree of arrogance,' he said.

'They are wanting to desert north Norwich, leaving few opportunities for players in that community. A new facility like this has the potential to undermine the hard work by other clubs in the area. We have found no support for this application among the city-wide rugby community.'

Norwich Rugby Club have been forced to relocate as their current site at Beeston Hyme is due to be developed into homes by Beyond Green developments.

Andy Pott, secretary of Norwich Rugby Club, said the idea was to 'create a regional centre of excellence' for outdoor sports.

'Obviously we are delighted that the majority of the members supported us,' he said. '90pc of the area required is already developed for sports facilities, and the proposals have been through numerous revisions to reduce the impact in the area.

'This will benefit not only Norwich Rugby Club but there will be a significant provision for local community sports.'

He also moved to reassure the meeting the club would not be looking to expand.

'We have no intention of creating more teams - quite simply they would have no-one to play against,' he said. 'It is in our interest all clubs in the local area continue to thrive.'

Local councils fought the plans

Local parish councils who fought the scheme spoke out against it but failed to convince most of the district members.

Tim O'Riordan, professor of environmental science at UEA and co-chair of Colney Parish Council, said he was 'desperately disappointed' with the decision yesterday as it put the local ecosystem in jeopardy.

'This valley has to be protected,' he said. 'There is a lot of wildlife in this area, around 5,500 species in total. We do not know what this will lead to, because there is always a creeping edge to development which ends up destroying what we intend to protect.'

Malcolm Wagstaff, of Cringleford Parish Council, echoed the concerns, calling the supposed benefits 'insubstantial and speculative.'

'This is for the sole benefit of UEA and the rugby club, who have a membership of around 1,000,' he said. 'The local community are several times larger than the rugby community, and there are no benefits which outweigh the damage done by this application.

'As one of the areas of the county at greatest risk of flooding we are concerned about the potential for flooding. Sports facilities should not be developed on flood plains. That should be the end of the story.

'There is a significant risk of damage to the site itself and any development of it.'

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