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Independent school in Newport proposes to bring disused playing field back into use

COUNCILLORS are being advised to allow an independent school to bring a disused playing field previously at the centre of a planning battle back into use. 

Rougemont School, in Newport, had to go to appeal in 2003 to be allowed to use neighbouring agricultural land, south of Pentre Lane, as a playing field, but some three years later gave up the lease for financial reasons. 

The land then returned to agricultural grazing before lying fallow but now the school has applied for planning permission to bring the field, which is outside of the urban boundary and in the ‘green wedge’ between Newport and Cwmbran and the Southern Lowlands Special Landscape Area, back into use for rugby, cricket and cross country. 

Torfaen Borough Council had rejected the 2002 application as it said use of the field would lead to an “urbanisation” of the landscape and the fear of “urban sprawl”, but the inspector said a playing field would be appropriate within the designated green space and it wouldn’t involve any urban development or new buildings. 

The school’s new application is for the change of use to school playing fields and they would be accessed directly from the existing school site and its existing facilities and car parking would be used. No buildings or development are planned. 

Three members of the public have contacted the planning department with concerns and objections including at the impact on wildlife and the biodiversity of the fields. 

One objection states: “The land supports and homes wildlife along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, which provides nature walks and cycle path for local residents. Sightings of bats, hawks, owls and kites will mean the change of use would have a negative impact on flora and fauna of special interest. This includes a growing array of mosses, lichens and fungi. This biodiversity supports the functioning and resilience of the canal and local agricultural landscape.” 

Questions were also raised about why the school intends bringing the land, which is described as often boggy, back into use and claims it would be more attractive for potential further development if it is in use and there a potential access to Cwmbran Drive. 

Torfaen planning officer Mia McAndrew said any such development would require full planning permission while the use as a school field had been established by the 2003 appeal decision. 

Her report said an ecological appraisal, submitted as part of the application, has set out protection of habitats for reptiles and dormouse as well as enhancements for enhancements for nesting birds and hedgehogs with other precautions that were accepted by the council’s ecology officer. 

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A concern about the removal of ancient trees was also raised by a member of the public but no works to trees are proposed as part of the application 

It is proposed that a planning condition restrict use of the field to the school, which is in line with a restriction imposed by the 2003 appeal. 

Members of Torfaen’s planning committee will make a final decision when they meet on Thursday, March 16, at 2pm at Pontypool Civic Centre.