David explained that he had dropped in on the Town Council meeting and sat in the public gallery to observe. At one point the Council Chairman asked if anyone was there to represent the club and David said that he had not come with the intention of making a presentation but was willing to answer any questions.
When asked why this meeting needed to take place when the planning application has been submitted to South Somerset District Council David responded “The idea of the democratic consultation between SSDC and YTC is to gauge what the town councillors think about the application at this local level. In effect, the Town Council is, theoretically, speaking on behalf of interested parties from the town centre only rather than the wider district or regional level. To be fair, the Council Chairman did also explain to the Councillors that they were being asked to comment as a consultee and reminded them that South Somerset District Council is the planning authority and determining authority for the application.”
David went on to explain that the main points debated and concerns raised by the Town Council could be summarised from his notes as “the plans differed little to the previous application, don’t need more retail out of town, more traffic on to the Western Avenue/Thorne Lane junction and concerns over the 80 bed hotel.”
David added that one councillor did say that he was “all in favour of seeing improvements to the club and that frankly for the supporters it is long overdue”. The councillor went on to comment that he supported the upgrading of the sporting facilities but felt the application was too much. However, he did not explain how such facilities would be funded.
In reaction to these comments and concerns David (as the Agent who is overseeing the application on behalf of the club) responds:
· “the plans differed little to the previous application” – it is obvious by just comparing the previous application and current application plans and reports that this is a very different application. Not only in style and justification but also in content, vision and need.
· “don’t need more retail out of town” – what Yeovil needs, in my opinion, is to be a viable town full of life and vitality at all locations. I agree with the individual town councillor that not everyone wants or needs to go into the town centre every day. In reality, the town of Yeovil should be about more than just the small area and interests of the Yeovil designated town centre area defined by a line drawn on a map. That councillor put his head above the parapet and did say that he thought some services in the north-west part of town would be useful. His reward was to be berated by another councillor. This is an “enabling application” and, as explained in the submitted reports, the planning principle is upheld in the High Court, by the Planning Inspectorate and some very forward thinking local authorities. This is explained in length in the reports and is the chance for South Somerset to shine.
· “More traffic on to the Western Avenue/Thorne Lane junction” – The SSDC Planning Officer attending the meeting did a thorough, professional job on the night and did remind the councillors that the documents submitted with the planning application considered traffic in detail. The club has put forward a solution for the Thorne Lane junction based upon the very successful traffic management experiments carried out at the Manchester United cup match in January. We are trying to help the locals argue for a change in the local authority stance and, as explained in the reports, there is an obvious and logical solution to the current weekday peak period congestion. The answer, clearly, is not to put even more give-ways in the way of the very dominant major flows as is currently proposed by others. Perhaps drivers and passengers in the regular non-football related queues may have a view on this.
· “Concerns over the 80 bed hotel” – the club put on a public consultation in the form of an exhibition and web site in January of this year. One of the changes put forward after that consultation was that the hotel be increased from 60 to 80 rooms. Many people, including local residents, could see the links between the club needing player accommodation, opportunities for sporting related packages, the need for accommodation and the money that this type of facility brings into the area.
John Fry said: “Having his offer to answer questions that may arise accepted, David tells me that he was not put on the spot on the night on any matters and the strategic and financial value of the football club to the community seems to be underestimated by many.”
David reiterated comments made in recent months that “The survival of the club depends upon revenue and other investment. Without the new facilities and the proposed short term capital and longer term revenue, the club is very unlikely to remain in the current format”. By way of only a few examples he quoted the vulnerability of the academy, the loss without replacement of the marquee, inability to help the development of the successful ladies football team, the holiday courses for hundreds of youngsters and also even the neatly cut short grass open spaces. Of these he said “Even the nature of the open spaces would change. Grass cutting on outer areas is an expense for the club rather than an income. A vision of the future without turning around the income looks bleak. Long grass off the pitch would not be the main problem – the club could live with that - but the devastating impact of severe cuts on the match day experience and all the additional benefits in favour of a core business based expenditure will hit the town and district hard.”
John commented: “Put bluntly, our aspirations are for League One then Championship football with a stadium that is self-financing and providing the match day experience that our loyal fans deserve. To do this the stadium complex must be used more than two or three times a month. These matters also contribute to the local economy and a new, purpose built hall available to our supporters and the wider community for social and leisure would contribute to the feel good factor”.
David added: “This is more than just about Brympton or western Yeovil. People across the district and beyond have an interest in the success of the club, town, district and regional facilities. Some are now asking why we are not all working together. Interestingly, I heard by chance the other day that some people don’t want football supporters in the town centre! I’m not aware of any local fan problems other than the congestion and parking. Matters which we are trying to help with as part of this application. Times have changed since the 80’s and it is sad when our and other club supporters, have their hard earned cash turned away”.
David, in rounding off his views about the lack of support from the Town Council, commented “It is clear and frustrating that the questions raised could have been answered not just by the Planning Officer or myself but, simply, by the content of the documents and plans submitted with the application. My view, and advice accepted by the club directors, is that we press on with our programme of consultation and discussions”.