Rowdy Meeting Sees Brentford's Training Pitch Approved

Opponents of Jersey Road facility unhappy with decision

Brentford FC's Indoor Pitch Meets Opposition
The site of the proposed pitch is the grey area on the left of this map from the application documents

March 14, 2024

Hounslow Council’s planning committee has approved plans by Brentford Football Club after hearing from furious local opposition. The project will sit to the west of the existing first-team training facilities, known as the Robert Rowan Performance Centre, at 100 Jersey Road in Osterley.

The plan includes a temporary single-storey academy building, a larger permanent maintenance building, flood lights, and multiple football pitches. These include one with an artificial surface and another having an 18-metre covering.

Brentford FC has seen success in recent years being promoted to the Premier League in 2021 and has now cemented itself as an ambitious mid-table team. Part of the requirements of the Premier League means that the club must have a certain standard of academy or it could face points deductions, fines or even regulation.

There were 91 objections to the plans laid out by the club for how it would meet this requirement and the council said it also received a petition with 152 signatures. The main sources of opposition were concerns with the locations of buildings, the speed at which the application had been brought forward, the use of floodlights, increased noise levels, more traffic, loss of privacy and the buildings being constructed on Metropolitan Open Land.

The officer who presented the application, Sophie Middleton, admitted that the application would be considered ‘inappropriate’ under the National Planning Policy Framework but added that the council and club have explored alternative options such as designs and locations for the academy and none were deemed suitable or practical. The western part of the site has been designated as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) however the officer added that surveys had found that the area the plan would occupy comprised of overgrown grasslands and was not considered to be of significant ecological value.

Ms Middleton said that a noise survey was also carried out at a comparable academy at Crystal Palace which found that activity on-site would increase ambient noise by 1.8 decibels – an acceptable range for the council. Strict rules about the use of floodlights would see their usage between dawn and 9pm only , while training and matches would run between 4pm-9pm on weekdays and 10am -4pm on weekends.

She also addressed objections filed by TfL which expressed its concern about traffic and parking. 100 parking spaces have been approved for the academy and 250 total across the whole site for around 220 people on site.

Although the GLA does not see this as sufficient the officer says that the council believes the benefits of the project outweigh the harms. The plan also includes planting 175 trees in the area and will offer the local community slots to use the new pitches, it will bring more jobs to the area and ensure Brentford’s continued position within the Premier League.

In front of a public gallery packed with local residents and objectors, Ms Middleton concluded, “On balance, it is considered that merits of the proposal including social, economic and environmental benefits including community benefits and the economic benefits associated with job creation and the presence of a Premier League club in the borough are considered to outweigh the minor harms.”

The council has also confirmed a payment of £267,000 for the borough through a Community Infrastructure Levy. Opposition residents and councillors were then given an opportunity to speak.

Locals asked the council to “defer the application because of a lack of rigour”, citing the fact that the council had given residents the wrong date for when the application would be heard, telling them it was going to be on 9 May. They said without much prior warning of the change many residents had been taken off guard.

One outspoken member of the public claimed that the officer’s report was ‘full of lies’ and said that she had been put ‘under a lot of pressure’ to get the application passed through. Cllr Marina Sharma asked the objectors if their dispute with the plan was not simply a case of ‘not in my backyard’ by neighbours.

Residents responded that they had seen so-called temporary buildings being erected on the site for years only to see when it was time for them to be demolished they would receive an extension. The academy building, which will be placed on the site for a maximum of 5 years, is seen by objectors as just another example of this.

They also said that the club’s community promises were a ‘mockery’ claiming that the club had made pledges to the community back in January 2023 that had failed to materialise. The group was followed up by Cllr Samia Chaudhary.

She said that as a Brentford fan herself she wanted to see the club do well but added that the impact of the plan “is not minimal or minor and all that has been said to dissipate it is the promise of the potential for community benefit.”

Responding to concerns the chairman of Brentford FC Cliff Crown was also in attendance. He said that the academy was ‘vital’ and that deferring was impossible with the Premier League’s deadline for an academy, 1 August, looming.

Not only are the training facilities important to fulfil a requirement but also for the health of the club, Mr Crown continued. “Even more importantly, unless the club operates a category 1 academy it will be far more difficult to attract talented young footballers. Following Brexit, it is much more difficult to recruit players from Europe and there the club needs to recruit and develop players itself.’

He said Brentford FC and its Community Sports Trust have delivered £143m in Social Impact Value to the local area between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2023. It intends to meet neighbours and objectors after the committee meeting to discuss their concerns further. While the Premier League only requires a Category 3 academy, Mr Crown says the move to achieve a Category 1 facility is his way of ‘future-proofing’ the club.

Mr Crown also added that the use of temporary structures in the plan was down to the urgency of the academy needing to be ready on time with one council officer adding that Brentford would be ‘stuffed’ if the application was delayed.

Ultimately the committee voted to approve the plan 10-2 in front of a raucous public gallery, which almost had to be cleared ahead of the final vote.

Rory Bennett - Local Democracy Reporter

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