No objection to rugby club move to UEA from environment officers

Picture by Mike Page.Picture shows:UEA Sports ground

Picture by Mike Page.Picture shows:UEA Sports ground

A fiercely debated proposal to relocate Norwich Rugby Club to the University of East Anglia has been given the nod by environmental officers despite strong opposition to any loss of habitat.

Since the plans were lodged with South Norfolk Council in January, 230 objections and 128 letters of support have been written.

And a petition against the plans, mistakenly describing the development as at Earlham Park rather than Colney Lane, has attracted almost 4,000 signatures.

Opponents of the scheme, including some high-profile names, such as author Ian McEwan, argue any loss of habitat for native species would be unacceptable, and the development would infringe on the Yare Valley.

But supporters insist the new pitches, clubhouse, car parking spaces and infrastructure would be a significant boost to sport in the county.

Dr Iain Barr, senior lecturer in ecology at UEA, has warned against any loss of biodiversity.

'We do not know and are not even close to knowing the impact of such an extensive change in land use and development on this area,' he said.

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'The river valleys in the greater Norwich area play a fundamental role in linking communities with biodiversity, green space, and provide a significant resource that should not be underestimated.

'There is no doubt that this development would result in a net loss of biodiversity.'

Helen Leith, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Norfolk, described their 'alarm at adding both a highly intrusive building and excessive, unwanted, car parking to the delightful and peaceful river valley.'

She said: 'This proposal clashes with the established landscape character protection policies of South Norfolk Council, and contradicts the UEA's own sustainability strategy.'

Despite the protests, there has been no formal objection from the Environment Agency or Norfolk County Council in relation to the environment or flooding, subject to conditions.

Around two hectares of natural land would be lost compared to the development site of 17 hectares overall.

Dr David White, senior green infrastructure officer at Norfolk County Council, has recommended a comprehensive biodiversity management plan be put in place if the scheme is approved.

He said: 'We accept that the habitats that would be lost are those of lower value for biodiversity; the higher value grassland and wetland habitats within the campus are not included within the application boundary; there will be no loss of wetland habitats, no loss of County Wildlife Sites or other areas of raised or higher biodiversity value.

'The Natural Environment Team recognise that piece-meal development adjacent to the Yare Valley has the potential to adversely impact on the value of the valley as a wildlife corridor, although we acknowledge that large areas of priority habitats remain.'

The application, due to be debated by South Norfolk Council's development management committee, has been deferred awaiting further information, and will not be discussed at the upcoming meeting on October 12.

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