More than a year after Sport England blocked plans for 176 homes on former school playing fields, Blackpool Council has granted itself consent, and must now wait to see if the watchdog withdraws its objection.
Advising the local authority, Lancashire planning consultancy De Pol Associates secured permission for 176 new homes on the 22-acre site which includes the former Bispham High School off Bispham Road.
Bispham High closed in 2015 when the school merged with Collegiate High School to form the Aspire Academy on the Collegiate site.
The housing development is subject to removal of an objection to the loss of the playing field by Sport England. The committee accepted the argument from De Pol that the fields were surplus to requirement, as identified in the council’s own recently published Playing Pitch Strategy.
In 2019, Sport England objected to the original plans and called for a study to be commissioned into playing field provision in the borough. This study was carried out while the plans were revised to reduce the number of houses.
A spokesperson for Sport England said: “I can confirm that Sport England is actively working with the council to resolve outstanding issues with a view to achieving a positive outcome in the future.”
De Pol also demonstrated that the school fields have never been publicly accessible, have not been used since the school closure, and that there is sufficient alternative provision in the locality. Should Sport England not remove the objection, the Secretary of State will be asked to confirm approval despite the objection, or to call it in.
The site is also proposed for residential allocation in the council’s draft local plan and its development would contribute towards boosting Blackpool’s five-year housing supply, said De Pol Associates MD Alexis De Pol. He added: “The permission allows for the redevelopment of a derelict brownfield site to create new homes for local people, helping the council address its housing shortfall and making the most of a previously developed land as is preferred by planning policy.
“We demonstrated the site is appropriate for housing due to its accessibility and is compatible with neighbouring land uses, and provided a robust response to concerns over the loss of the playing field, which has never been a publicly usable space.
“The retention and enhancement of the western part of the site as public open space will be an asset for the community and support ecological diversity, while the new pedestrian links will open routes through the site for the benefit of all local residents.”
The land is owned by Blackpool Council and comprises the former school grounds and playing field, a neighbouring public open space and a large area of undesignated scrubland behind the Department for Work & Pensions’ Warbreck offices.
The permission allows for the construction of homes on the land previously occupied by the school and its playing field, to be accessed from Bispham Road, and on the scrubland to the south west accessed via Regency Gardens.
An existing four-acre area of open space will be retained next to the locally listed public park, the Devonshire Road Rock Gardens, and a children’s play area. There will also be new areas of open space around the edges and through the centre of the new development, retaining existing trees and enhancing natural habitats, along with new pedestrian routes linking both areas of housing with Bispham Road, the Rock Gardens and Regency Gardens.
The hybrid application includes full permission for the relocation of an existing air cadet hut from Bispham Road to a site on the northern boundary, accessed from Kylemore Road, which will provide improved facilities for the cadets, with the addition of parking for users.
The Bispham site was cleared after closure of the school. The council said it has prioritised redevelopment of the land as part of its provision of new homes in the borough.
Cllr Lynn Williams, leader of Blackpool Council, said: “We are very pleased that the planning application has been approved and we can now progress the plans to build new homes for local people. The site will provide an excellent and critical boost to Blackpool’s housing supply.
“We listened to the local community and their concerns and have reduced the number of homes accessed from Regency Gardens from 86 to 56, as well as committing to make improvements to the local highways.
“Blackpool Council will also be making a contribution of £200,000 towards new 3G pitches on a currently disused pitch at Stanley Park, to ensure there is a quality provision of public playing fields for the local community.”
Consultants and advisors for the Bispham scheme include DC&MG Associates, Curtins, Cameron S Crook and Associates, Ironside Farrar, WSP and historic building consultant Chris O’Flaherty.