Bath City Football Club bosses say they are “devastated” and considering their future after their “once-in-a-generation” regeneration plans for Twerton Park were thrown out.
Proposals were submitted last May to replace the grandstand, install a 3G pitch, build flats and 356 student beds, and regenerate Twerton High Street.
The struggling club owes more than £1million and said there was “no other mechanism” to get it onto a stable financial footing.
More than 800 people backed the proposals but councillors voiced concerns about living conditions – with some rooms compared to prison cells – and the impact of so many students in a residential area.
Speaking at Bath and North East Somerset Council’s planning committee meeting on March 11, Twerton ward member Sarah Moore said: “While we urgently need this area of Twerton to be revitalised, I’m concerned this won’t achieve it.
“The scale of the student building is too large. Too many people will be crammed into a small area.
“I urge you to reject this application, and urge the football club to work with us to find an application that can work for all.”
Recommending refusal, officers said a student block standing up to seven storeys high would appear “monolithic and overbearing”. They said this and the plans to use the 3G pitch all year round and during the week with floodlighting would harm the conservation area.
However the officers had warned: “There is some legitimate concern that, should the football club’s financial position not improve, they may be forced to sell the site and move to an alternative location outside of Twerton.
“The club has been based at Twerton Park since 1932 and is socially significant for the community. Its relocation would therefore be a significant loss for Twerton.”
The plans proposed 356 student bedrooms, 12 affordable apartments, six open-market flats and 33 co-living studio apartments that would have shared communal facilities.
Cllr Sue Craig said the average prison cell is the same size as some of the rooms being proposed.
Objector Joe Schofield said investment in the area should be ethical and not be at the expense of people living in unacceptable conditions.
Representing the club, agent Paul Haworth said the 800 letters of support showed the public was overwhelmingly in favour of the development.
He added: “There is no other mechanism available that would secure the future of the club.”
Supporter Joy Saunders said it was time Twerton – with its child poverty and shorter life expectancy – was brought into line with the rest of Bath.
She told the committee: “You have the opportunity to address that inequality, to regenerate a left-behind part of the city. Your decision will create a legacy that will affect the lives of my family and neighbours and will be felt for generations to come.”
Cllr Jackson said the development would have an adverse impact on the conservation area and the student housing was inappropriate in this location.
Proposing rejection, she said she hoped the club comes back with a revised application but added: “We have to think of the residents of Twerton who will have to live with what’s built and the swarms of students from time to time.”
Members unanimously voted to refuse planning permission.
In response, a club spokesperson said: “Bath City FC is devastated with the decision.
“We have worked closely with B&NES Council throughout this process and have sought the advice and guidance of council officers in an attempt to propose a scheme which would protect the future of Bath City FC, help us to pay off our debts, bring benefits to the local community and see much-needed investment in Twerton High Street.
“Along with our partners, Greenacre Capital, we have proposed a project that would have dramatically enhanced the prospects of Twerton, introduced new affordable housing to the area and, in fact, delivered purpose-built student accommodation, clearly in line with the council’s own strategy. In addition it would have ensured the city had a high grade football club and stadium for current and future generations.
“Despite a groundswell of support, with large numbers of positive comments on the planning portal from the Bath community, B&NES Council has decided not to approve this once-in-a-generation opportunity for Twerton.
“Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to bring this application before the council and to everyone who has thrown their enthusiastic support behind it.
“Fans, players and staff can all rest assured that we will continue to act in the best interests of the club and that there will be no drastic short-term changes although our focus will now be to Bath City FC to consider all options for its future.”
Former councillor Joe Rayment tweeted: “Well done to the councillors who today decided to potentially kill @BathCity_FC and further the economic degradation of Bath & North East Somerset’s most deprived area. They should all, every one of them, hang their heads in shame. Disgraceful.”
By Stephen Sumner, local democracy reporting partnership