Coventry Stadium planning inquiry: Inspector urged to consider convictions when deciding venue's fate
The planning inspector tasked with deciding the fate of Coventry Stadium has been urged to consider convictions secured against the landowners over its state of disrepair.
Brandon Estates launched an appeal against Rugby Borough Council’s refusal of planning permission for 124 homes, a 3G football pitch and pavilion at the derelict home of the Coventry Bees speedway team and stock car racing.
The company was prosecuted and found guilty of two counts of breaching a community protection notice (CPN) at Birmingham Magistrates Court in November 2022. The council had issued the notice in 2017 with the breaches occurring in 2019 and 2021.
The breaches related to a series of illegal traveller encampments and rough sleepers gaining access to the site which was the subject of arson attacks and vandalism.
The notice was dropped after security at the site improved but it was too late for many areas of the stadium which have been significantly damaged.
Part of the justification for the housing put forward by Brandon Estates is the amount it would cost to revive the motorsport venue – reports commissioned by the firm suggest that to be more than £13 million.
Save Coventry Speedway and Stox (SCS), the campaign group that harbours hopes of restoring racing to the site, believes more basic provision, albeit with the grandstand boarded off, can be achieved within £1 million.
Notwithstanding that gulf, the legal representatives of SCS and the borough council were adamant Brandon Estates should not be rewarded for past indiscretions.
Hugh Richards KC, representing the council, said during his closing submissions: “If the physical condition of the land is an obstacle to resuming racing, then it is pertinent to ask who is responsible for its deterioration? The answer is plain to see.
“The appellant (Brandon Estates) was convicted. It lodged an appeal. But since the appellant then also took steps to properly secure the site, which was after all the council’s purpose in serving the notice, the parties agreed to ‘drop hands’ – the appeal would not be pursued and the notice would be withdrawn.
"But that does not alter the fact that the appellant was and remains convicted and was ordered to pay the council’s legal costs.
“We say that is highly relevant to the weight that should be given to any conclusion by the inspector that site restoration costs make resumption of racing unviable. We say it justifies very much reduced weight.
“This is not a matter of law or rationality, it is simply a matter of planning judgement. There is no express policy support for it, but that is and never has been a barrier to identifying and weighing material considerations in the planning balance.”
As part of his conclusion, Richard Humphreys KC, representing SCS, referred to the assertion of planning consultant Gareth Hooper of DPP Planning where he suggested Brandon Estates had “done all that it could to secure the site”.
Mr Humphreys described that as “offensive” to his client.
“It is simply not permissible to seek to imply that though the appellant has not pursued an appeal against the convictions, fines or order of costs, it was not guilty of the offences,” he said.
Peter Goatley KC, representing Brandon Estates, said attempts to refer to various planning policies and historic cases on this issue was a “rather hazy exercise”, describing some elements as “erroneous and unjustified in law”.
He later said: “Yes, there was a CPN issued. Arising from that there was an appeal, and consequent upon that appeal being lodged but not pursued, the council and the appellants chose effectively to drop hands.
“The suggestion that simply means all of the apparent guilt, for which the (council) now contend and for which SCS contend, somehow affects the judgement before you, I respectfully suggest that ought to be rejected.”
Planning inspector Helen Hockenhull will now consider the evidence against the areas of disagreement laid out at the start of the inquiry – whether the housing would have a greater harm on the green belt than what was there, whether the stadium should be deemed as surplus to requirements, the financial viability of restoring the stadium, whether there is a need for the proposed 3G pitch, whether the inclusion of the pitch would outweigh the loss of the stadium and consideration of other benefits such as the extra housing for the area.
Her decision is likely to arrive in the new year.
In closing the inquiry, she thanked everyone for their participation.
“It has been a very interesting case for me,” she said.
“Something a little bit different, looking at a totally different area of recreation and sport which I have very little knowledge about. I have certainly gained quite a lot from this inquiry.”