Send us news, start your message Cheshire News and your send photos and videos to 80360
Sport England says it will not withdraw its objection to the Victoria Stadium being redeveloped
EXPERTS asked for their view on a planning proposal that has closed permanently Northwich Victoria’s now former home say they are still opposed to it.
Sport England objected last month to an application by Thor Specialities (UK) Ltd, a chemicals manufacturer that bought land in January on which the Victoria Stadium is built, to increase production next door.
But councillors on Cheshire West and Chester Council’s strategic planning committee agreed unanimously that it was a good idea.
Thor can now to store up to 60 tonnes of n-Butyl Isocynate, classed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as very toxic.
The HSE insisted on a bigger safety zone around the factory, so the site can no longer be used for football.
We are maintaining our objection,” said a spokesman for Sport England.
“Our policy requires the replacement of a playing field and facilities – in this case the pitch and structures that make up the stadium – with one of an equivalent or better quality in a suitable location.”
The council has warned that is unlikely.
Instead it plans to negotiate compensation, in the form of a legally-binding agreement, with Thor to make up for the loss of a ground that has hosted matches since 2005.
“We are still in discussions which could continue for some time yet,” said Clr Stuart Parker, executive group member for culture and recreation.
“However, we can say that whatever package is agreed, the council is determined that it will be used to benefit sport in the Northwich area.”
A new facility does not have to b ea football stadium, but the Guardian understands that is Thor’s preference.
No date has yet been set for talks.
But the club, which did not formally object to the proposal despite owner Jim Rushe’s promising to do so following its eviction, will not be represented.
“My recommendation for approval is drafted to allow for further consultation with Sport England,” wrote planning officer Paul Friston in his report to councillors.
“However, the agreement allows the council to conclude negotiations and issue consent in the absence of it withdrawing its objection.”
When asked, Sport England’s spokesman declined to comment on whether the body would take part in negotiations with Thor.
In a letter written on the eve of last month’s meeting, planning manager Fiona Pudge asked councillors to force the stadium’s new owners to sign a draft legal agreement.
Among its terms was a clause requiring Thor to buy land on which a new ground could be built as well as paying compensation for the loss of the Victoria Stadium before it redeveloped the nine-acres site.
However Mr Friston attached neither condition to his recommendation.
He wrote: “There are other material considerations that warrant a flexible approach that is unlikely to meet in full the policy requirement for a replacement facility.
“Thor’s contribution is not expected to meet the cost of one either. At this stage, the proposal is still in draft.”
“That said, there are reasonable indications that a stadium of this scale would be difficult to sustain as a viable use, not least as illustrated by the history of the premises.”
He recommended councillors to make an exception to the council’s recreational policies so that Thor could make real its promise of investment, in turn creating around 50 jobs.
They followed his advice.
“We look forward to working with the council to find the best long-term option for the assets at the Victoria Stadium that will be the benefit of the community,” said David Hewitt, Thor’s managing director.
He had initially suggested that a compensation package be agreed only when a planning application to redevelop the football ground site was ready.
The council disagreed though.
Mr Friston said: “It is this application that prevents future use of the football ground, so it is necessary to agree a planning obligation now.”