Sport England has responded to plans for Wasps to develop a new £7million training base at the current home of Coventry City’s Academy.
Planning officers at Coventry council have already recommended that plans for the Alan Higgs Centre be approved during a public planning committee meeting scheduled to be held at the council on Thursday.
The move has been opposed by Coventry City FC, whose agreement to use the facilities for their Academy is due to expire in June 2017.
Concerns have been raised that the club would lose its ‘category two’ academy status if the current plans are approved. They include building a kicking barn on the site of the ‘match pitch’ currently used by CCFC and taking over three of the four outdoor pitches which will remain at the site.
Sport England, which has to be consulted over applications as it would result in the loss of ‘playing fields’, has said there is not enough information in the plans to be able to fully assess the impact on the delivery of sport in Coventry.
It also encouraged all parties to work together to see if the football club’s Academy could be spread across the Higgs Centre and other sites but did not come out in favour of or against the application.
Sport England assessed the application against planning policy exception ‘E5’ which permits development of playing fields if the provision would benefit the development of sport and outweigh the detriment caused by the loss of the playing field.
The Sport England response read: “From the information submitted in support of this application it is not clear how the proposal would impact the delivery of sport in Coventry.
“It is considered that the potential for the co-location of Wasps RFC and Coventry City FC needs to be further investigated by the parties involved in order to determine what activity could take place at the Alan Higgs Centre and determine what, if any, sporting activity would be displaced should the proposal be implemented.
“This information would then help to inform whether or not alternative sites would be required to maintain the sporting activity currently taking place at the Alan Higgs Centre and would also help to determine the impact on any displaced sporting activity.
“Unfortunately insufficient information has been submitted in support of this application to enable Sport England to adequately assess the proposal against Exception E5 or to make further comment.”
Planned talks over the future of the Sky Blues academy between Coventry City’s managing director, Chris Anderson and the Coventry Sports Foundation (CSF), which operates the site, failed to materialise with Anderson insistent that CSF should put in writing the facilities needed to accommodate the Academy would be available before he would agree to a new date.
There are also plans to build a 50m swimming pool on the site of the current indoor pitch used by the Sky Blues at the Alan Higgs Centre although Wasps have offered to rent indoor space, which will be created under its training centre plans, to the club
The Academy has been an important source of talent and income for the club of late, with the sale of youngsters including James Maddison (Norwich City) and Callum Wilson ( AFC Bournemouth) substantially boosting the Sky Blues’ accounts..
The football club was unable to sign any deal to stay at the venue for longer than seven years or redevelop any part of the land due to a clause inserted by the Alan Edward Higgs Charity when it sold the venue. That blocks long-term arrangements for any organisation, or associated entity, which took legal action against the charity between 2011 and 2016.