New council houses are being built in Caerphilly County Borough for the first time in nearly 20 years, but at what cost?
Housing developer Llanmoor has begun work building 46 homes (with seven of these set to go to the council) on the site of the playing fields of the former Bedwellty Comprehensive School. The plans were approved in September 2020 and follow an earlier development of 55 homes on the site of the former school itself. Six of these homes will also go to council housing stock.
The housing is being built on the playing fields despite the council’s own planning policy stating the land should be kept for leisure use.
So what happened? Let’s go back to the beginning of the first development.
The school site was sold to Llanmoor Developments in January 2018. The sale contract “required that the development include a spur road to serve a future development on the playing field site” – according to a council report at the time.
However, the sale tender documents said the spur road would be to allow vehicles and pedestrians access to the playing field, which at the time was still in use.
Was the road required for access to the playing field or to a future development? Two different reasons on two different documents.
Playing field “surplus to requirements”
The playing field, which had two pitches, was deemed surplus to requirements by the council in April 2018, with junior football club Fleur de Lys AFC having already agreed to leave the site.
The playing field had only been brought back into use by the council in 2015 at a cost of £6,600 – ten years after the school was closed and demolished.
Sport Wales and charity Fields in Trust both voiced opposition over the loss of the playing fields in Aberbargoed.
In an email sent to the council’s Green Spaces and Transport Services Manager Mike Headington, Sport Wales’ Dr Jonathan Radcliffe objected to the disposal, citing criteria set out in Welsh Government’s national planning policy.
Dr Radcliffe argued that there was not enough evidence to show the playing fields were being sufficiently replaced.
Regardless of whether the pitches were being replaced elsewhere in the county borough – the destruction of the pitches at Aberbargoed would mean less green space for residents to enjoy.
The council’s own Local Development Plan also states that the land should have been kept for leisure use and not housing.
Selling the playing fields for residential development
The council first deemed the fields were surplus in April 2018, before its cabinet of ruling councillors made a formal decision to get rid of them in October 2018.
A report to councillors on October 3 revealed that interest from Llanmoor Developments had already been received. The question of whether this was before or after April 2018, when the council said the field was surplus, remains unanswered – despite it being put to Llanmoor and Caerphilly County Borough Council.
The council said it didn’t know, while Llanmoor got quite defensive over our question.
A press representative from the developers wanted to know if our question was to criticise the purchase, or the development of the land. We asked whether that would change their response if it was and we were sent the following statement.
“As buyers of the initial site, Llanmoor were legally obliged by a condition of the planning permission to provide a vehicular access to the adjacent playing fields.
“It subsequently came to our attention that the use of that adjacent land was to be subject to a review and consultation as to whether the area was considered to be surplus to requirements as a playing field.”
What happened to the club who used the fields?
Fleur de Lys AFC, which has around 160 players ranging from under-7s to under-15s, was the only club using the two fields at the Aberbargoed school site.
Before making the formal decision to get rid of the fields, the council worked with Fleur de Lys AFC to relocate the club to the Trelyn Park playing fields in Fleur de Lis itself, which they have been sharing with Fleur de Lys Rugby Club ever since.
However, the current arrangement at Trelyn Park means the football club only has one pitch it can use.
The football club moved from the village’s Ynys playing field to Aberbargoed in 2015 because the pitch was not up to standard. Club chairman Phil Bowden wants the Ynys field restored so the club can use it once again.
Work on restoring the Ynys field has already started, with the council “hopeful” it will be completed by August.
By bringing the Ynys back into use, the club would, alongside their pitch at Trelyn, have two pitches to use – the same as they had in Aberbargoed.
A spokesperson for Caerphilly County Borough Council said: “The school site was sold when the fields were still in use. Circumstances changed and the fields site was then declared surplus and sold.
“The football club were very happy with the move back to a pitch closer to home at the time.”
Timeline of events
1937 – Bedwellty County Secondary School opens.
1973 – School becomes a comprehensive.
2005 – School closes and is subsequently demolished.
November 2010 – Council adopts Local Development Plan, which will run until 2021.
2015 – School playing fields brought back into use by the council’s parks department, at a cost of £6,600.
2015 – Fleur de Lis AFC move from the Ynys to the Bedwellty School playing fields.
January 2018 – Former school site sold to Llanmoor Developments. Contract included a requirement for a spur road to be built, allowing for a potential development on the playing fields. Land sold following a competitive tender process – “the tender response from the market was poor with only three returns but it was felt that the LD bid was in line with the market value of the site”.
April 25, 2018 – Playing field pitches declared surplus by council’s cabinet – effective at the end of the football season in May 2018. A report written by the council’s Green Spaces and Transport Manager, Mike Headington, suggests the land could be sold for housing at a later date.
The report raised concerns about the pavilion on the school site. It says: “The pavilion that supports the playing pitches is currently situated on the land sold for residential development. The purchaser of the site requires vacant possession by the end of May 2018. If the authority were to relocate the existing pavilion from its current location onto the area being retained, this would result in the loss of one football pitch.”
The report also says: “Provision would need to be made for parking, which is particularly problematic within the retained site and this could cost a further £50,000. It would not however, be able to accommodate all car parking on site so inevitably nuisance parking on the main road and surrounding street would continue to happen if the playing fields are retained.”
May 2018 – The 2017/18 football season ends. Fleur de Lis AFC leave the playing fields and move to Trelyn Park ready for the 2018/19 season.
October 3, 2018 – A council report, published to seek cabinet members’ views on the disposal of the playing fields for a residential development, reveals Llanmoor had already expressed an interest in buying the playing fields site. The report said: “The end result would be a homogenous and attractive development.”
Cabinet agrees to allow the Interim Head of Property Services, in conjunction with the cabinet member for Homes and Places, to sell the land to Llanmoor, with the land being sold on the open market via a competitive tender process if the current market value could not be achieved.
October 4 – November 22, 2018 – Consultation process on deeming pitches surplus takes place. Objections received from Sport Wales and Fields In Trust. Objection “centres on the fact that Fleur de Lys AFC will be sharing facilities with Fleur de Lys RFC and one pitch cannot be considered equivalent provision.” Council says: “In terms of local provision, there are seven playing fields located within the local vicinity (two adjacent to Hanger 81, Aberbargoed, one in Pengam and four within Cefn Fforest). Consequently, there is no shortage of provision within the locality and all the local teams are/can be accommodated.”
December 2018 – Plans for 55 homes on the school site lodged with Caerphilly County Borough Council.
February 27, 2019 – Proposals to bring Ynys playing field back into use before the 2020/21 playing season are outlined in a council report. (In April 2021, the council told Caerphilly Observer that these plans were disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. The council is now hoping the work will be completed by August 2021).
March 24, 2020 – Wales, along with the rest of the UK, enters lockdown for the first time following the coronavirus outbreak.
April 2020 – Plans for 46 new homes on the playing fields lodged with Caerphilly County Borough Council by Llanmoor.
September 2020 – Plans for 46 new homes green-lit by council. Seven of these will become part of the council’s stock.
November 2020 – Work gets underway to build housing on the school site. Council confirms six of the homes on the 55-home development on the school site will be council-owned – the first council housing to be built in the borough in nearly 20 years.
March 2021 – Council announces more council-owned homes to be built – with a six one-bedroom apartment in Trecenydd and a 12 one-bedroom apartment in Trethomas backed by the council’s planning committee.
April 2021 – Llanmoor announces it is paying the council £19,500 “for the management of the protected woodland area adjacent to the development, which will be retained”.
July 2021 – Housebuilding on playing field site expected to begin.
Early 2022 – housing development on the school site is expected to be complete.
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