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Sport England objects to new running track at Three Hills Sports Park on Cheriton Road, Folkestone

ByMolly Mileham-Chappell

A government body has blown the whistle on a proposed new exercise facility in Folkestone, after developers initially failed to notify sports bosses of the plans.

Sport England (SE), a non-departmental public body, has objected to a new running track at the Three Hills Sports Park, citing the loss of a community playing field, used largely for football matches as the reason.

Blueprints to develop part of the Cheriton Road site to create a new running track and spectator seating - among other ideas - came to light at the end of January.

Three Hills Sports sports park, FolkestonePicture: Gary Browne FM2844939 (6811855)
Three Hills Sports sports park, FolkestonePicture: Gary Browne FM2844939 (6811855)

The proposals look to develop a field used for dog walking at the rear of the park, consisting of two football pitches. Bosses behind the proposals had hoped that the bid would rival facilities in other Kent towns, but SE planning bosses have hit out at the plans, saying that the application could 'prejudice' the use of playing field land, lead to the loss of one or has been used for this purpose in the last five years.

SE is sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which is chaired by Folkestone and Hythe MP Damian Collins.

Part of SE's role is to protect existing sports provisions, and it must be consulted on any planning applications that affect playing fields in England - something they say they were not originally approached about.

SE consequently was formally consulted, and ultimately opposed the scheme. An email from SE on Folkestone and Hythe District Council's (FHDC) planning portal states that the pitches are currently used for league matches: "The loss of the two grass pitches will have a negative impact."

It adds that provisions for younger players is also a consideration: "We note that the applicant is proposing two 5v5 and two 7v7 to replace the existing grass pitches, but the existing 3G should be able to host mini-soccer fixtures, in line with the usage programme submitted to Football Foundation when the 3G was funded.

"Unless the applicant can demonstrate the need for the additional mini-soccer pitches and that the existing grass pitches are surplus to requirements and also show how the existing youth/adult teams can be accommodated on the 3G at an agreeable pricing policy, we cannot support this application."

It concludes that if FHDC planning officers approve development against SE's objection, the application should be referred to the Secretary of State.

How the Three Hills running track could look. Credit: Guy Hollaway design and access statement (6812318)
How the Three Hills running track could look. Credit: Guy Hollaway design and access statement (6812318)

The application's design and access statement, produced by agent Guy Hollaway Architects, says the proposed facilities will become home to the applicant Folkestone Running Club, who currently share changing provisions at the site with various other town sports clubs.

The proposed area for the athletics track is 20690sqm, with a grass centre for field activities such as shot put and javelin. The track, finished with red rubber, would have two 100m straights and eight lanes. There would also be new pavilion with changing rooms, toilets and a café.

Dog walking would be moved to the east of the site, with a low fence to separate it at 6400sqm, making it like-for-like with the existing walking area.

The designs had been made in consultation with the club and sports park, with guidance from International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and UK Athletics.

Three Hills Sports sports park, FolkestonePicture: Gary Browne FM2844864 (6811847)
Three Hills Sports sports park, FolkestonePicture: Gary Browne FM2844864 (6811847)

As well as ministry opposition, the plans have been met with mixed reactions, with many living nearby raising concerns about noise and floodlighting.

The agents anticipate floodlighting will not be used beyond the park's close at 10pm.

Additionally, training for the running club is held bi-weekly and summer events may reduce use of floodlighting, while an integral louvre will also be fitted to them to reduce exposure.

But neighbours to the sports park have commented on the application, saying there will still be issues.

Lynda Fletcher said: "I strongly object to the plans and in particular to the floodlighting as it is so close to residential housing.

"Also the noise from large gatherings is just not acceptable. There is plenty of room for the track and facilities to be relocated away from housing."

Leigh Clarke said: "I am not against the development of the site and hope it will bring some healthy regeneration to the area.

"However I am extremely against the fact of LED light pollution and privacy issues that will most definitely be caused."

"I strongly object to the plans and in particular to the floodlighting as it is so close to residential housing" - Lynda Fletcher

Susan Trevett considered other uses: "The mainly residential area surrounding and near to this land have benefited from this recreation space land for over 40 years.

"It is multi-functional and is used as a recreation space for local people of all ages.

"If this planning application is approved, many people will lose peaceful enjoyment of this land for the benefit of a few athletes, many of whom do not live in this vicinity."

Others looked on the proposals more favourably.

Harriet Allen said: "My children attend Folkestone Junior Running Club and have done so since 2012.

"It is a brilliant club, but imagine how much it would benefit from having state of the art facilities. Folkestone is massively missing out if this isn't approved."

Keith Hollidge said: "If ever there was one, then this is an absolute no brainer.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to secure a magnificent sports facility for the people of Folkestone and beyond.

"There are some very talented young athletes who would massively benefit from such a facility and put Folkestone on a par with the other clubs we compete against - all of whom have an athletics track."

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