Club faces fight over academy lights

LIGHTS ROW ... over Sunderland's Academy of Light.
LIGHTS ROW ... over Sunderland's Academy of Light.

ONE of the region’s big two Premier League clubs is hoping the Government won’t show the red card to its plans to extend its training base in South Tyneside.

Sunderland AFC has submitted a revised planning application for an indoor training site and outdoor synthetic floodlit pitch on land to the north of the Academy Of Light, at Whitburn Moor, Cleadon.

And when members of the borough council’s planning committee meet next week, they will be recommended to refer it to the Secretary of State.

It had originally been thought the application would face little opposition.

An earlier expansion plan for an indoor facility was approved after a series of public consultation meetings.

But the club says it now needs a floodlit pitch to meet Premier League standards.

And the revised bid – particularly the floodlit element – has raised the hackles of several homeowners in Cleadon, who have voiced concern over the potential impact on the village’s Conservation Area.

One has labelled the proposal “a monstrosity” which will “destroy the essence of the Green Belt”.

It is claimed that light from the floodlights would spoil the night-time views for residents near the site.

Local ward councillor Jeff Milburn said residents were “not answerable to the FA”, adding: “I support the football club for bringing money into the local economy, but this scheme appears to be out of context.

“The village has been here for 800 years, the football club for 100 years, and we shouldn’t be jumping through hoops just to meet the wishes of the FA.”

Objector Anne Turvill, of Moor Lane, Cleadon, said she felt “let down” by the club.

She said: “Bit by bit, they are encroaching on green belt land.

“This is nothing more than night-time pollution. The floodlights will be clearly seen from Sunderland Road and Moor Lane.

“The club’s submitted drawings try to minimise the impact of the floodlit facility at night, but they’re not fooling anyone.

“It will have the same impact as the floodlights at, say, Sunderland Greyhound Stadium.”

Mrs Turvill added: “I strongly object to the lighting that is proposed, and believe it will ruin the night scene in this area. It is light pollution.”

The club says both pitches are crucial to meet the needs of the Premier league’s Elite Player Performance Plan, aimed at improving player development.

The Academy Of Light was opened in March 2003, replacing the outdoor training area at the Charlie Hurley Centre in Whitburn.

It serves as a training facility for both the Sunderland Youth Academy and the professional squad.

A club spokesman said: “Both the indoor and outdoor surface will sit within the footprint of the original design.

“Accordingly, a revised planning application has been submitted to the planning committee.”

The report to the planning committee says: “The council cannot immediately approve the application, it must refer the application to the Secretary of State to see if he wished to ‘call-in’ the application for determination.

“The referral to the Secretary of State must include whether the planning committee is minded to grant the application.”

A council source predicted it was likely that committee members would make a site visit before making a decision on the application.

The planning committee is to meet from 10am on Monday, in the committee suite at South Shields Town Hall.

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