Charlton were given the green light from Greenwich for owner Roland Duchâtelet’s ambitious training ground development at New Eltham when the council’s planning board met on September 17th, writes Rick Everitt.
Officers had recommended approval for the entire scheme, which will mean most of the existing facilities at Sparrows Lane being swept away. However, permission for the relocated three-storey building housing the first team, academy and community scheme offices, is subject to referral to the Mayor of London as it is a departure from the approved local development plan. The club reduced its proposed footprint by around ten per cent over the summer in an effort to address planners’ concerns.
At ground-floor level it will provide reception, players’ and officials’ dressing rooms, kit storage, gymnasium, classrooms and laundry facilities. The first floor will add administration areas for the academy, professional staff and the Charlton Athletic Community Trust (CACT). There will also be a cafeteria and a parents’ lounge.
At second-floor level there will be specialist physio and “recovery rooms”, together with “some academy accommodation” – in fact eight, and more likely 16, individual bedrooms.
The building will have a total floor area of 4,755m2 together with an indoor playing area and ancillary storage of 2,876m2.
The smaller application to put up a “simple two-storey building with a footprint of 164m2” for the CACT at the front of the site to “provide changing rooms and related facilities on the ground floor and a classroom/general amenity room at first-floor level”, got consent straight away, as it is considered to comply with existing policy.
The main planning issue is that the training ground is designated as metropolitan open land and as such enjoys the strongest protection, requiring “very special circumstances” for development to overcome policy objections. In short, officers accepted that Charlton’s need for a Category One academy constitutes such circumstances, asserting that the current Category Two status is “having an adverse impact on the club’s ability to attract new players into the academy and professional players to the club”.
The report by area planning manager Neil Willey notes that the built-up area of the 13-hectare site will increase from 1,623m2 to 5,046m2 – or from 1.3% to 4%, leaving 12.5 hectares undeveloped: “Overall, in view of the limited impact that the proposed training/academy facility would have on the open character of the site and the clear benefits that the development would bring to the future success of Charlton Athletic, it is considered that an exception can be made in this instance and planning permission granted for the new training/ academy facilities,” it concludes.
The council appears to have accepted the club’s claim that the new indoor sports hall is required to secure Category One status, contrary to its 2014 planning application, and brushed over the residential use of the building in just three words, with no attempt to justify or address the planning issues that it potentially raises.
Some preparatory work has already taken place on site at Sparrows Lane and the club should soon be able to proceed in earnest, subject to Duchâtelet underwriting most of the cost, which is expected to run into eight figures.
CACT will benefit from much improved facilities, although as previously reported here the community element has been dramatically scaled back from what was agreed last year. But that is unlikely to worry many supporters, who are bound to see such significant investment as a serious statement of intent.
This is an edited version of the report in VOTV121, which was published just before the decision was made.