By Harry Mottram: It’s S-Day in Bath (Stadium Day). The consultation over the planning application for Bath’s Rugby Stadium plans ends on Saturday November 4th, 2023, and a right old debate has been taking place in the club, in the bars and pubs of the city and of course online.
Local Democracy Reporter John Wimperis noted: “More than one thousand people have called on the council to approve Bath Rugby’s plans for a stadium in the heart of the city. The window to have your say by commenting on the planning application for the Stadium for Bath plans closes tomorrow (Saturday, November 4). A total of 1,197 people have left comments supporting the plans so far, compared to just 79 people lodging objections. Another 30 people have left comments categorised not categorised as either.”
The plans would mean a permanent east stand effectively cutting the Recreation Ground in half – but the club have promised there would be continued access to the ground along with new amenities for not only fans but the public and community groups as well. In the proposals that anyone can look at online the proposal states: “Phased comprehensive redevelopment to provide a new sporting, cultural and leisure stadium with hybrid sports pitch, including the retention of and refurbishment and extension to the South Stand, and construction of new permanent North, East and West Stands. Phased construction including the retention and relocation of temporary east stand to facilitate playing of sport during construction. Stadium to include ancillary facilities and structures including changing rooms, flood lights, television screens, scoreboards, camera gantries, media suite, matchday food and beverage outlets and hospitality suites, conference / function / banqueting / hospitality spaces, service and kitchen areas, flexible multi-use areas, offices, storage, plant and substation. Hard and soft landscaping works, flood alleviation works, tree planting, new steps and platform lift, infrastructure works, temporary construction compound and all associated construction works and operations.”
However, some comments on the planning portal have also knocked the plans – essentially saying they are not good enough for the city of Bath with its historic buildings with some supporting the curved ball plans thrown into the argument by Mark Wilson Jones and Jakub Ryng of Apollodorus Architecture with their colosseum idea. Despite Bath Rugby Club flatly rejecting their plans – there has been considerable support for their detailed plans which included a revamped leisure centre. And the architects haven’t given up on their attack on the club for not considering their proposals with a talk on the history of the Rec on Tuesday and the principle of who really owns it – the citizens, the Trust or the rugby club? Apollodorus state: “The [Club’s] proposals fall well short of what this highly sensitive and significant site deserves. They threaten the heritage status of Bath, spoiling key views, while reducing the open playing space of the Rec by a fifth. With this scheme the prospects for the urban realm would be dismal, for it cements a series of existing problems, adds others and keeps the site largely disconnected from the rest of the city. This runs contrary to several of the local planning policies, as outlined below. It also runs contrary to some of the central principles in the National Planning Police Framework (NPPF) for sensitive sites.”
Dismissed by many as a pastiche of a Roman colosseum, the idea is certainly more ambitious than the ones put forward by the club. Whether the architects simply got under the skin of the club’s officials is open to speculation – but they haven’t come up with the cost of building the colosseum and a revised leisure centre. And that is possibly the nub of the matter as the club’s proposals for a more modest rebuild is more affordable – and there isn’t a rugby club in the top-flight (including Bath) that isn’t already millions in debt – so they have no desire to spend more than what’s needed.
Bath Rugby’s Chief Executive, Lynne Fernquest said: “Stadium for Bath will be much more than a rugby ground. It’ll be a place for Bath to come together; a place for us to connect; a place for Bath to grow its rugby and deepen its community connections. Throughout the year, Bath Rugby Foundation also hosts a variety of family festivals, including the Mixed Ability Rugby Cup and the Summer Scrum, which celebrate the achievements of our children and young people.
“With the installation of a hybrid pitch, the Stadium for Bath will become more accessible to schools, clubs, and community groups, offering a broader range of activities. In stark contrast to the current pitch, the hybrid offering will enable three times more usage, transforming the stadium into a bustling hub of sporting activities in the heart of our city.
“The new plans also place a strong emphasis on accessibility, putting the inclusion element of the Foundation’s work at the forefront. There will be ramps, lifts, accessible toilets, hearing loops, and more to ensure the seamless inclusion of people with varying access needs.”
It is not going to be an easy decision for the Council’s planners as it is not just advocates of the colosseum idea who are against the club’s plans – residents close to the ground are worried about the extra footfall and disruption on match day – with 4,000 more people cramming into the stadium. There’s also the nuisance caused by the rebuilding and the extra noise and traffic created by the enlarged capacity. Plus there are those who see the Rec as a free public space and not the reserve of the club. A green space to be enjoyed by all and that would see a chunk cut off for the provision of one sport.
Now it is down to the planners at Bath and North East Somerset Council and the scrutiny panel who have the unenviable task of making a decision – a decision that will surely divide opinion whatever it is. If the club’s plans get the green light, then work could begin next year – if there is a rejection or a request for major alterations then the affair could well rumble on for some time to come.
To comment on the stadium plans visit https://www.bathnes.gov.uk/webforms/planning/details.html?refval=23%2F03558%2FEFUL
To see the club’s plans visit: https://www.bathrugby.com/stadium-for-bath
To see Apollodorus Architecture’s plans visit: https://www.apollodorus.uk/project-bath-arena-landing
Harry Mottram is the News Editor
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Bath website: https://bathvoice.co.uk/news/
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