The plans included pitches for small-sided games. Credit: planning documents

Leamside football centre kicked into touch

A proposal to create a 20-pitch hub for the Russell Foster youth leagues has been rejected unanimously by Durham County Council’s planning committee.

The Russell Foster Tyne & Wear Sports Foundation put forward plans for the redevelopment of land at the Leamside Equestrian Centre on Pit House Lane, Leamside into a centre for youth football.

This was to offer 14 seven-a-side pitches, six five-a-side pitches, a changing block (requiring the demolition of an existing stable block), a car park, and the widening of the Green Belt site’s access.

Further plans floated were for an indoor sports hall inside the existing equestrian arena and the use of that facility’s offices, catering and classrooms.

The centre was intended to replace existing facilities at Newbottle, on the edge of Sunderland, with a more modern facility with higher quality pitches.

Even before the committee meeting on 4 July, the applicant was struggling. Of 98 responses to the plans, 96 came from objectors, with two neutral respondents, many of the complainants citing worries over sustainable travel and harm done to the Green Belt.

Officers had recommended refusal, accepting that while Sport England had okayed the site as a sustainable location for a site of regional significance, they contended “that the spatial and operational aspects of the development bring an urbanising harm”.

Various councillors spoke up at committee, with the overall tone being that while the good work of the Russell Foster leagues is appreciated – the competition has played a role in the development of many top footballers including Jordan Pickford and Jordan Henderson – they had concerns over the accessibility and safety of such a rural location, although it was acknowledged that Durham’s highways officer had cited no objection.

Cllr Simon Wilson said: “I have a real concern that this site is difficult to get to” and that it would surely lead to a heavy reliance on car use “at a time when we’re trying to be more green”. Cllr Isabella Roberts added: “In thee cases, we should listen to the local voice, and the local voice is enormous here.”

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