Football club’s expansion plans get the green light despite opposition from town council

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A town football club’s application to upgrade its facilities has received the full backing of planning councillors.On Monday, West Norfolk Council’s planning committee unanimously voted through Downham Town FC’s proposals to improve stand and dugout facilities at the Memorial Playing Field – with members confused as to why Downham Town Council had objected to them.Cllr Brian Long said it appeared the town council had “come up with anything and everything” that could have been a reason to reject it. He also argued the growth of the club will encourage more visitors to the town, who would likely support local shops.At their own meeting last month, Downham councillors voted to oppose the club’s expansion plans due to worries about overshadowing and noise.However, on Monday, borough councillor Pallavi Devulapalli described it as a “good news story” and said she could not see any grounds for the plans to be refused. Cllr Long added that in his view, Downham Town Council could benefit from additional training on how to judge planning applications.Following the decision, Dale Stokes, chairman and first team manager of the football club, said it was grateful the borough council had dismissed the town council’s objections.He said: “The club were of course very aware of the objections to the proposals and we are grateful that West Norfolk Council dismissed these with conviction and we were impressed with the professional manner in which they did it.“It is extremely important for our future that we have facilities which not only meet the requirements of the leagues we play in but is also somewhere we can be proud to call our home.”The club came up against opposition from the town council which cited concerns about the noise that would be generated by extra fans and potential overshadowing from the stand. It also objected to the “garish” colour of the proposed new stand, which the club wants to match the team’s red strip.The club unveiled the improvement scheme after being promoted to the region’s top league last season, in order to meet the Football Association’s requirements for the new division. The proposal includes increasing stand seating capacity from 50 to 100. The town council’s opposition was not received well with many in the town who said it should be more supportive of the local team.The club, which has been playing in the town since 1881, submitted plans to expand its facilities at the Memorial Playing Field in February. Following the men’s first team’s promotion to the Thurlow Nunn League, the club is required to increase the capacity of the seated covered area to 100 in order to meet FA requirements. Team dugouts also need to be improved.At the time, George Dickson, club secretary, warned if the plans were rejected, it could put the club at financial risk due to having to pay to play at larger grounds nearby. The side currently seventh in the league, and this week reached the final of the Norfolk Senior Cup after defeating Watton at the semi-final stage. At Downham Town Council’s meeting in March, members argued that the red colour of its stand would harm the visual appearance of the area.Other issues included more noise and traffic problems from the increased crowds, despite the club’s last 14 home matches only getting an average turnout of 148 fans.Cllr Charlie Pyatt, deputy mayor, described it as “garish in colour” and asked for it to be toned down to a muted grey or green.Cllr Jacqueline Westrop said while no one was against the football club itself, the application did not “look competent” and that the changes could “worsen” the situation at the playing field.She said nearly all councillors in the chamber had been approached by residents with concerns about the football club’s impact on the field.However, 55 people wrote letters of support for the project to the borough council.People questioned Downham Town Council’s reasons for opposing the bid, arguing their complaints did not justify the decision to reject it, while others said the growth of the club was a “big positive” for the town.Following the application’s success, Mr Stokes added: “The facilities in Downham are the same as they were in 2001 when the population was around 6,000, the town population is now around 12,000 and we are building another 1,000 new homes.“The town desperately needs the infrastructure to support this growth. The football club is currently supporting 250-300 players and we anticipate that the numbers could grow to in excess of 400 over the next few years.“The club has always and will continue to work constructively with all and any parties to progress the facilities and infrastructure around the club and town.”Additional reporting from Kris Johnston

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