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This month Brent Council is again tasked with considering a planning application for a commercial 3G artificial grass floodlit football pitch development. But will this finally be the last of its kind?
We have seen these applications several times before, and they almost read the same. This time it is by Queens Park Community School (QPCS) in Brondesbury (Ref 20/1411) . Like its predecessors, QPCS wants to replace its natural grass playing fields with artificial 3G rubber surfaces, complete with state-of-the-art floodlights and commercial football hiring until 9 pm. As is the case with many other schools in London, QPCS is located in the midst of a quiet residential area.
The arguments remain the same. 3G rubber crumbs are invariably bad for the environment and players' health. 3G pitches are banned in parts of the EU as a result. These operations tend to be very noisy. And, the commercial hiring aspect routinely draws in large numbers of visitors from further afield that will be using private transport because the site is not well connected to the public transport network.
On the other end, the school is citing the desperate need for an all-year football pitch because the grass surface becomes difficult to play on during the winter months.
The Head of QPCS recently took her cause to the Brent & Kilburn Times stating that 'QPCS has produced "outstanding top-flight footballers"' before naming a few . This is, undoubtedly, a remarkable record, but it also begs the question that if QPCS can 'produce outstanding top-flight footballers' on its natural grass playing fields, then why does it even need to replace Nature with artificial grass with all the dire consequences this development would bring?
But there is another question. How much should we be focussing on producing more professional football players? Only a tiny fraction of players will ever make it to a level where they can support themselves following this elusive dream. And, it is often a rather short dream due to the immense physical strain players are under. For some, it is over as quickly as a flight into suborbital space.
As a nation, we are under immense pressure to solve the many complex problems we are faced with today. We are battling a global pandemic. We are battling Climate Change. We are battling social injustice, an ageing community and a looming care crisis.
We are in desperate need of healthcare professionals, doctors, engineers, scientists and leaders that can help us get through these challenges. Our Government has failed to attract a single applicant to its fast track Global Talent visa scheme.
Therefore, should our schools in Brent not be focussing on producing the skills and expertise that we so desperately need? Should our role models not include Sir David Attenborough, Jane Goodall, or the many unsung heroes of our time who develop vaccines against Covid or work to solve our growing need for renewable energies?
This particular planning application is additionally facing serious ecological challenges. There is anecdotal evidence of there being colonies of bats at the site which is adjacent to Tiverton Green. Yet, when QPCS presented its initial plans in 2020 and when it resubmitted these plans in 2021 it did not commission or present a single bat survey as would be customary in these situations. This has taken many observers by surprise. However, due to the efforts of the Brondesbury Park Residents Association who privately commissioned a professional 'Bat Activity Survey', we finally have clarity on this point. There are indeed two species of roosting and foraging bats in the immediate vicinity of the site.
This 'Bat Activity Survey' was uploaded to the Brent Planning Portal only hours before the end of the consultation. Unfortunately, this has meant that the public, including pupils, their parents, neighbours, and everyone who has commented on this application, did not have the benefit of this important evidence and information.
I suspect that further bat surveys will now be required covering all of the proposed site and its surroundings. This would need to be done before this application could possibly be resubmitted in the form of a revised application if this should even still be deemed viable.
I feel that QPCS and its management has let down the public and its supporters by resisting to undertake professional bat surveys right from the start. It would also seem inconceivable that anyone would be tempted to continue pursuing a planning application when it stands to contravene the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations (2017).
Moreover, there appears to be an important lesson for all when it comes to schools wanting to replace their natural grass playing fields with artificial materials such as 3G rubber surfaces.
As the many detailed responses to these planning applications repeatedly show, the impacts these have on the natural environment stand in no comparison to the perceived incremental benefits these might offer.
If we are to learn from past mistakes, we need to change how we go about our natural resources. If COP26 in Glasgow has taught us anything then we need to change now. We cannot afford to further destroy our local natural habitats and let a commercial undertaking benefit from its demise.
If Brent Council and its Members are serious about the Climate and Ecology Emergency it had called in 2019, and if they are serious about the Brent Climate & Ecological Emergency Strategy 2021-2030, they must act firmly and call time on these ill-conceived developments that harm our fragile biodiversity.
Brent Council should also make it clear that these types of developments will no longer be considered in future.