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Stadium bid: your questions answered

June 26, 2021 12:08 PM

Stadium FAQ

Bushey Hall Golf Club and Watford FC stadium: your questions answered.

Q. What are the recent developments?

A. The bid to build a new Watford FC stadium on Bushey Hall Golf Club has been rejected from the borough's Local Plan. This emerged at a Hertsmere planning meeting on 17th June, and now makes it extremely unlikely the stadium could ever happen, because the only really plausible route to winning approval has now been closed off. It also means the golf club site will remain on the greenbelt.

Q. What was the process?

A. It centred on Hertsmere Borough's new Local Plan. The Plan - which is currently being drafted - is the blueprint for future development in the borough and designates the uses for land. Crucially, it can take land off the greenbelt.
Veladail Leisure (owners of BHGC), and Watford FC, had bid for the golf course to be accepted on to the Local Plan as a new employment site, for the purpose of building a football stadium and leisure complex.

Had they succeeded, Bushey Hall Golf Course would have been delisted from the greenbelt and earmarked as the future stadium site - but not confirmed as such. They would still have needed planning permission.

In our view, getting BHGC on to the Local Plan was the only genuinely realistic way the stadium could ever be built, because the land would have been removed from the greenbelt. Otherwise, any planning application would have immediately failed, except in very special circumstances (see below). And this, presumably, is why Veladail and WFC pursued it as a tactic.

Q. What happened with the Local Plan bid?

A. As with all the sites put forward for the Local Plan, council officers assessed the technical merits of the bid against formal criteria. They concluded that it was ineligible for the Local Plan.

This is because the proposal hinged upon Bushey Hall Golf Club securing redesignation as an employment site. Hertsmere's Local Plan requires such sites to create employment in specific sectors - offices, industrial, and storage (warehouses). However, the Watford bid would have created employment in the *leisure* sector, which is not a permitted category - and was therefore found to be ineligible.

Bushey North Lib Dem councillor Paul Richards had repeatedly made this exact argument to council officers.

A Hertsmere spokesperson said: "Ross Whear, our Head of Planning, in an answer to a query advised the planning committee that the land at Bushey Hall Golf Club which has been proposed by the landowner as a new employment site did not meet the definition of 'employment', as set out in our existing plan".

Q. What does this decision mean?

A. Bushey Hall Golf Club - and the stadium proposal - will not be on the Local Plan. The golf course site will now remain on the greenbelt until at least 2034.

Q. Does this make the stadium impossible?

A. Not quite. No proposed development is ever *impossible*. But as we said, it's now extremely unlikely, and there is barely any feasible route for Veladail/WFC to get approval. To delist the course from the greenbelt, they would now have to prove 'very special circumstances'. We cannot envisage how their scheme for a football stadium, hotel, and cinema, could ever qualify as such.
Schemes which *might* be deemed special circumstances include developments for healthcare, if a specific proposal was held to be necessary.

Q. Can Veladail and WFC can appeal the decision - for example, to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government?

A. We don't think so. After making inquiries since the announcement, we can see no route by which they could make an appeal. This wasn't a case of a planning application being rejected - where there are clear rights to appeal. Instead, it centred on ineligibility for the Local Plan, which is an entirely different process.

Q. So will they now simply build housing on the land instead?

A. No. The key point is this: the decision means the golf course will stay on the greenbelt, which means no development for anything (with the caveat above). This was a question of *whether* to build on the golf course - not *what* to build on it
However, it's important to note that Veladail *do* already have planning permission to build a small number of flats on the former clubhouse area of the site, which is designated as brownfield.

Q. What will happen to Bushey Hall Golf Club now?

A. We want to see BHGC re-open as a golf course, and now the stadium scheme has failed, we encourage Veladail to abandon these flights of fancy and simply restore the site to its proper purpose.
However, it's privately-owned land and no one can force them to run a golf business. But they can't build on the land or change its use without permission, which involves delisting from the greenbelt.

Q. What happened to the Tree Preservation Order (TPO)?

A. This is still in place. Veladail appealed the TPO, but we're pleased to say that at Hertsmere's planning committee meeting last Thursday, councillors voted to reject the appeal and uphold the TPO, after hearing testimony from Cllr Paul Richards.

Q. Where does this leave the plan to build an enormous school on the Bushey Country Club site?

A. It has no bearing on it: the two proposals are entirely separate. With regard to the Country Club, Cllr Laurence Brass is currently investigating whether and why Hertfordshire County Council are requiring Bushey to accommodate a new secondary school. We will report on this soon.

Should it come to it, all Lib Dem councillors will vote against any Local Plan which includes a school on the site.