News Sport

Rugby club’s future secured as councillors finally approve plans for new sports facility

Councillors previously twice deferred a decision on approving the scheme from Barnet Elizabethans Rugby Football Club, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

The plans for a new clubhouse (credit HLM Architects)
The plans for a new clubhouse (credit HLM Architects)

Redevelopment plans designed to secure a Barnet rugby club’s long-term survival have finally been approved by councillors following three separate debates.

Barnet Elizabethans Rugby Football Club has won permission to demolish its existing clubhouse in Byng Road, High Barnet, and build a larger, modern facility after extra protections for the Green Belt site were secured.

Two previous planning committees deferred making a decision on the scheme, although in July councillors indicated they were “minded to approve” it.

The proposals were presented to the strategic planning committee on Tuesday (12th). Despite securing conditions on the application to protect the environment, council officers again recommended refusal over fears it would have a “harmful impact” on the Green Belt and “significantly compromise” the health of a tree.

This time, the meeting heard from Ammar Naqvi, the council’s cabinet member for culture, leisure, arts and sports, who said the clubhouse redevelopment would contribute to the Labour administration’s ambition to make Barnet a “destination borough” that provides residents with “vibrant and high-quality opportunities to live more creative and active lives”.

The rugby club says the existing clubhouse is expensive to maintain, and the redevelopment will enable it to provide more changing rooms, new floodlit pitches, a bigger car park and facilities for disabled people.

It says the current clubhouse does not meet contemporary standards for sports, player welfare or community use, and has no specific changing and showering facilities for women.

Conservative councillor Laithe Jajeh begged the committee to approve the plans and help secure the future of the club, saying: “This is the heart of the community. Please don’t take it away from children and from those of us who love the sport.”

Planning agent Jon Bradburn told the meeting that during the summer the club had worked with council officers on a set of conditions designed to ensure the scheme is “of the highest quality” and reduce its impact.

The conditions include measures to protect trees and wildlife near the site from excavation and building work.

Jon added: “This scheme truly is an opportunity for investing in the people of Barnet and to maximise access to the Green Belt for sporting purposes.”

Melvyn Sears, chair of Barnet Residents Association, warned over the potential for disturbance from late-night events at the clubhouse, calling for opening and closing times to be laid down and limits on the number of times it can be hired out.

He also called for the clubhouse to be hired out for private evening parties “no more than once a week”, claiming there had been “a long history of disorderly conduct when party-goers disperse”.

Chris Strack, chair of Barnet Elizabethans, said a lot of the disturbance was not connected to the club, which wanted to be a “good neighbour”. He told councillors the club’s aim was to lease the clubhouse out during the day, and it was not in its interest to cause a nuisance.

Following the debate, the committee agreed to draft an extra condition to ensure the hours of usage specified in the club’s lease do not change. Councillors then voted unanimously to approve the plans.

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