New Forest District Council gives Ringwood Town Football Club the thumbs-up to transform Long Lane base into community hub
AN ambitious project to overhaul Ringwood Football Club into a community sports hub has been given planning approval by New Forest District Council.
Club chair Phil King said he was "delighted" and hoped the plan would galvanise the Long Lane headquarters for many years to come.
He said: "For me this project will provide the football club with a future – a future that people of Ringwood can be proud of, with a modern, full-purpose facility that will be the future for our 376 players across our 26 teams, aged from as young as six to as old as 60-plus."
Up to £1m in funding from football authorities is expected to be secured now approval has been given by NFDC's planning committee, despite the site being greenbelt.
The proposal, submitted for the club by Ringwood Town Council, is to build a new, full-sized 3G artificial turf pitch.
It includes improving the existing grass pitches, expanding the car park into 85 bays, and a new pavilion with changing rooms that could feature a café and space for community groups.
The project was fronted by the town council as it owns the freehold of the land. Four people were opposed but 158 had written to NFDC in support.
Andrew Battison, from the trust, told district councillors at the committee meeting: "This is a really exciting opportunity to improve the existing facility and bring the element into the sport of a community facility within the New Forest and Ringwood."
NFDC officer Richard Natt highlighted how it needed to prove there were "specialist circumstances" for it to go ahead within the greenbelt.
He argued that had been met by the physical and mental benefits of the proposal. There was also a “massive shortage” of football playing surfaces within the district, he noted.
Committee members, including Cllr Tony Ring, raised concerns about the LED floodlights as they had caused some problems with neighbours.
But Mr Natt assured they would be "low impact", were a healthy distance away from neighbouring homes, and would not harm wildlife
Planning conditions would also be imposed to monitor the impact of the floodlights.
There were also concerns about the narrow Long Lane access to the site, but members were told there are plans to spruce up the passing points, and it was hoped that the nearby Moortown Lane junction would be improved.
Noting the numerous positives in the scheme, all 17 committee members backed the move.
"This is planning working at its very best," Cllr Barry Rickman said.
"All I can say is ‘lucky Ringwood’," added Cllr Barry Dunning.
The project has come about after a partnership deal was signed between the council, the football club and AFC Bournemouth Community Sports Trust, the Championship club's charitable arm. The trust has leased the land to make the scheme happen.
The trust has said it intended to move some of its staff to the site to manage it on a day-to-day basis and run courses which will include sports training, physical and mental health sessions, and others to boost people’s employability.
It also wants to boost girls' and women’s football and open up the sport to those with disabilities, as well as and older people through walking-football tournaments.
Steve Cuss, head of the Community Sports Trust, said: “We were delighted to see this project given the go-ahead and are excited for the work to begin.
"The new facility will allow us to bring together a range of our innovative programmes at a dedicated site, which will be hugely beneficial to so many people in our local community.”