Efforts are being made to avoid the potential removal of a ‘media tower’ at Hebburn Town Football Club after the development clashed with planning policy.
The club recently installed the permanent steel structure at its home ground in Hebburn Sports and Social Club to meet league requirements following its promotion success.
Applicants said the plans were brought forward to meet tight league time-scales, with an application for retrospective permission submitted to South Tyneside Council (STC).
However, planning officers recommended the plans be turned down as the structure was built on land designated for “recreational open space and as a playing field” and which was previously used for cricket.
Although a cricket team has not been based at the Hebburn ground since 2015, Sport England objected to building on the land and asked for mitigation for the loss of cricket provision.
While council planners said the media tower was acceptable in terms of visual impact, they noted the structure would be “harmful and inappropriate due to its location on designated playing field”.
Hebburn Town FC however warned refusal could see the club relegated to a lower division, adding it would be “unreasonable and perverse to maintain or protect a cricket square when it is no longer being used and the team disbanded”.
Stephen Rutherford, chief executive of Hebburn Town FC, defended the scheme at Monday’s (June 20) meeting of STC’s Planning Committee, where councillors also heard about the football-related activities Hebburn Town FC provides to more than 700 children and 150 adults, as well as its wider community engagement work.
Mr Rutherford explained that the site in dispute on “technical grounds” was a small area of “abandoned” land between football pitches had no alternative function as a cricket pitch, or for any other formal sport pitch.
The Hebburn Town FC chief added the club was “massively disappointed” with the planner’s recommendation and that negative impacts from this would be a “huge kick in the teeth towards [the club’s] planned progression”.
This includes future plans to continue growth across the club’s junior and senior sections, as well as further community engagement and improving infrastructure at its home ground.
Members of the Planning Committee were sympathetic to the club’s situation and asked whether alternatives had been considered, including whether the media tower proposals could be withdrawn and resubmitted.
Councillor Sandra Duncan suggested the council’s recommendation to refuse represented using a “heavy sledgehammer to crack a nut” and said resolving the matter was “hugely important for the young people of Hebburn”.
Councillor Eileen Leask added it would be a “disaster for so many people” if the panel refused the plans without planning officers and the club first making an attempt to “work it out outside of this room”.
Following discussion, councillors agreed to defer a decision on the application to a future meeting.
Hebburn Town FC officials, speaking after the planning meeting, welcomed the move.
Club bosses said they hoped to find a “positive solution” with the council which benefits the community and fits with Hebburn Town FC’s progression plans.
The retrospective planning application is expected to be discussed by Planning Committee again next month.