Controversial plan to relocate Norwich Rugby Club to the UEA to be debated by councillors for the first time

UEA Sports ground. Picture: Mike Page

UEA Sports ground. Picture: Mike Page

Opinions have been bitterly divided over plans to relocate Norwich Rugby Club to the University of East Anglia which will go before councillors tomorrow after months of debate.

More than 400 comments have been lodged with the application to build new sports pitches and a clubhouse at the existing playing pitches on Colney Lane.

Of those 250 object to the scheme and 156 are in support.

Concerns include flood risk, congestion on surrounding roads and loss of wildlife habitat, but the Natural Environment Team, Highway Authority and Lead Local Flood Authority at Norfolk County Council have no objections subject to conditions and safeguards being put in place.

A decision could be made by South Norfolk District Council's development management committee when they meet at 10am.

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Crusaders RFC, based two miles from the UEA at Little Melton, have maintained strong opposition to the plans and attempts have been made to placate them with a £50,000 sec 106 offering towards pitch drainage and maintenance.

The Crusaders RFC committee said they oppose the relocation as 'it threatens our very existence'.

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They say: 'Norwich RFC are encroaching too close to an existing established club and new facilities attract players, external funding, sponsorship revenues and volunteers, all from a finite local resource pool.'

The chairs of Colney and Cringleford parish councils, along with the Yare Valley Society, have also submitted strong objections.

In a joint letter they say 'it would transform a beautiful and peaceful area with increasing biodiversity into a 'green desert' of sports pitches, fencing and lighting columns and carparks dominated by an intrusive clubhouse. And it would further congest an already over-used adjacent road network for no proven community need when there are alternative sites available to meet that need.'

A group of 28 staff and professors from the Environment, Space and Place Research Group at the UEA have also raised serious concerns.

Supporters of the scheme insist relocation to the UEA would be the only viable option to create a leading sports hub.

Tom Lloyd, of Alexandra Road, said the facility would 'provide much needed training ground for a county that has rarely realised its full sporting potential.'

Nick Hunt, of Hardy Road, said: 'For too long, Norwich has been without a viable option to those wanting to either play or support rugby but only have access to public transport.

'While there may be some other rugby clubs in the local area that see this as a negative, many would benefit from the increased numbers that would inevitably look to take up the sport.'

A spokesman for the university has also defended the plans.

'UEA takes its responsibility for protecting the environment extremely seriously, alongside its commitment to providing outstanding sporting facilities for its students and the wider community,' they say. 'As part of the ongoing development of the campus, it has always been intended to enhance the current sporting facility on this site, which is currently set out as sports pitches.

'Our plan does this in a very sensitive way and, because we are custodians [of the Yare Valley], we have spent time and resource doing a careful assessment of the impact. It is disappointing to read comments from people who assume we have not taken this level of diligence.'

A request from a member of the public to defer the application due to lacking or misleading information will be reported to the committee tomorrow.

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