Anger after Sport England opposes Melton club’s vital new 3G pitch

There has been an angry response to a move to block Melton’s biggest football club from installing an artificial pitch which would also be used by junior players and schoolchildren and help the first team play at the highest level the town has ever seen.

Monday, 21st June 2021, 12:24 pm
Updated Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 9:02 am
The site for the proposed 3G pitch at Melton Town FC's HQ at Melton Sports Village EMN-210621-120232001
The site for the proposed 3G pitch at Melton Town FC's HQ at Melton Sports Village EMN-210621-120232001

Melton Town FC has applied for planning permission for the 3G surface at their HQ off Burton Road which will be used in all weathers by multiple users and would replace a pitch which has been blighted by flooding and led to regular match postponements.

But Sport England, the government body which promotes sports and which has a big say on new sporting developments, has issued a ‘holding objection’ because it feels there would not be sufficient community use and because there is no perceived need for another 3G pitch in the borough with John Ferneley College already having planning permission to build one at their site.

If Melton Borough Council approves Melton Town FC’s pitch scheme it would now have to be referred to the Secretary of State, with real doubt over whether it would then be permitted and delaying the project at a time when the club needs it for the new season in August after being promoted.

Melton Town FC first team manager Tom Manship EMN-210621-121127001

Tom Manship, the club’s first team manager, said he was ‘angry and upset’ by Sport England’s objection and that not being able to install the new pitch would threaten the future viability of the club.

He told the Melton Times: “I can’t for the life of me understand their reasoning behind it because this football club is growing and the facilities are imperative for our junior pathway and out first team and they are stopping a football club growing.

“They are saying you can only change if the facilties are better, which is true, if more people are using it, which is going to be true, and yet they are still putting up this holding block.

“Our project could all fall apart just from the actions of a governing body who are supposed to promote sports but who are stopping a facility being turned into an elite one.”

Melton Town FC's Tom Rigby and Jordan Lever chase back as Anstey put Town under pressure back in 2018 - the club wants to replace its grass pitch with a 3G surface EMN-210621-121429001

We reported back in April that the club was funding the venture itself with the aim of enabling junior teams from under sevens upwards to progress through a pathway to the first team.

Discussions have also taken place with neighbouring Birch Wood Area Special School for their pupils to use the new surface for exercise during the day.

Melton Town, which enjoys average crowds of 250, has also just been promoted to step five of the football pyramid and the pitch is crucial in ensuring training and matches can take place after a series of postponements in recent years due to flooding on their current grass pitch.

“It’s outrageous behaviour by Sport England when we are talking about private funding for a private football club on a private pitch,” said Tom, who pointed out that the borough council had been very supportive throughout.

Site for approved new 3G pitch at John Ferneley College EMN-210621-120222001

“They are saying that our project would possibly make the John Ferneley College project up the road not viable but we don’t agree with that at all.

“One pitch is for a private football club and the other is for school pupils at the other end of the town.

“We had the builders ready to start this in the first week of July.

“The club is very upset because this pitch is for my first team who have worked so hard to get to the highest level of football Melton’s ever seen, it’s for our youth pathway and it’s also for the fans who have supported us in big numbers as we’ve gone up the leagues.”

The objection by Sport England could have a big impact on the council planning committee’s decision on the scheme, with a date yet to be set for it to be considered by members.

The organisation cites paragraph 97 of the National Planning Policy Framework for its opposition - it states that new facilities should only be built if they are a higher quality and more beneficial to the community than the current use of that land.

And Sport England wants more detailed evidence about the wider usage of the new pitch, as well as questioning whether it is needed in the town with John Ferneley College ready to install one this summer as a community facility.

Their objection report sent to the council also refers to the borough council’s ongoing review of the Melton Sports Village site, where Melton Town FC is based, which floats the idea of the land being potentially developed and sports facilities relocated elsewhere.

It recommends the council puts off a decision on the football club’s pitch until the council has decided what the future is for the sports village site, which would mean a lengthy delay for Melton Town FC’s project.

A spokesperson for Sport England told the Melton Times: “Sport England’s position and view is only one of several considerations that a council will take into account when reaching a planning decision.

“In this instance, as indicated in our report, there were significant gaps in the information provided - particularly in relation to the viability, the operation and the design of the facility.

“As there had been no consultation with Sport England, the FA or the Football Foundation before the application had been lodged - as would be standard practice so that this information can be discussed - we therefore lodged a holding objection.

“We would now encourage the applicants and the council to have further discussions to give proper time for the examination of the proposal with all of the facts available, including the inconsistencies of the proposal with the council’s own playing pitch strategy.

“Ultimately the decision is for Melton Council and not Sport England.”

Councillors approved John Ferneley College’s new 3G pitch in April, with perimeter fencing and floodlighting to be installed alongside it.

The Football Foundation is considering an application to help fund the project, which the school say will be available for local clubs and grassroots teams.

The school’s new pitch will replace an existing grass playing field used for football and other sports and recreational activities.