A SKIPTON councillor has expressed his disappointment after plans to upgrade a grass sports pitch and build a car park were turned down by officers, describing it as a missed opportunity for the town's wider sports masterplan.

Plans for the former LMS (London Midland and Scottish Railway) site off Carleton New Road, Skipton, would have seen an 'improved' grass pitch, including drainage, and a two-storey 409  space car park on part of the site, together with the removal of old, dilapidated changing rooms.

Owners of the land Dalesway Construction have said the sports pitch would be handed over to Skipton Juniors FC, while the entrance to Skipton Cricket ground would be gifted to the Coulthurst Trust.

The car park would be run on a commercial basis with both long and short term parking also aimed at relieving on-street parking and an alternative to Skipton Railway Station car park.

But, the plan has been refused permission by North Yorkshire Council, following an objection by Sport England, by officers using delegated powers, instead of going before councillors at the Skipton and Ripon Planning Committee. Reasons for its refusal are the 'unacceptable loss of playing field provision' and concerns over flooding.

In response, North Yorkshire councillor Andy Solloway, who represents Skipton West, said he was very disappointed that the application had not gone before the planning committee, and that in his opinion, the scheme would have addressed 'all kinds of issues'.

"As well as enhancing all kinds of sports provision, parking and accessibility at Sandylands Sports Centre, it had a large amount of public support. It would also have created a real opportunity to improve the pedestrian and walking access to the sports centre that as currently there is no footway along Engine Shed Lane," he said.

In a planning officer's report, recommending refusal, the scheme, which has changed since first being submitted to the former Craven District Council in 2016, is described as generating 54 comments, 47 in support, and four in objection, on top of the usual statutory consultee responses.

Main issues of the proposal says the officer are whether it complies with the Craven Local Plan and if not, if there are sufficient reasons to approve it anyway, its impact on the character and appearance of the area, its impact on neighbouring buildings and residents and on highways safety. Also any effect on flood risk and biodiversity issues.

The report notes that the car park would be built on part of the existing football pitch but with no replacement provision - which is against policy in the Craven Local Plan that allows it only under certain circumstances including that 'an equivalent replacement sport, open space or built sports facility, the benefit of which will be at least equal to that being lost, is to be provided on the site or in an accessible location nearby'.

It describes the site as 'open grassland' not currently marked out and with no goalposts and claims there was once two football pitches on the site.

The report states: "The applicant acknowledges that the proposed car park is not an ancillary facility to the Skipton Hub, but rather a commercial enterprise that would benefit town centre visitors and users of the railway station, as well as users/visitors of Sandylands through possible reduced parking rates, although this would be subject to an agreement with the car park operator.

"The council is concerned that there would be a risk that users of the proposed car park would park in the current free parking provision associated with Sandylands rather than the fee-paying car park, thus reducing the level of available parking provision for users of the sporting facility. Furthermore, there is no robust evidence before the council that the proposed parking provision is required."

In its submissions to the council, Dalesway Construction says the proposals will 'deliver tangible improvements to the existing playing pitch which would otherwise remain unmanaged and unused' and help the ongoing sports masterplan for the area being put together by North Yorkshire Council.

"The proposed car park forms both an enabling development for the proposed pitch improvements and delivers a much-needed parking resource for the benefit of Skipton town centre and employment areas and also the town’s rail station. Importantly, the proposed car park will also provide much-needed parking for people using the sports facilities at the wider sports hub and pitches, and for people using the proposed improved playing pitch at the remainder of the site."

Cllr Solloway added: "I find it strange that on one hand North Yorkshire Council are actively promoting and working with Sandylands on a new masterplan, yet in this case have refused a big part of that jigsaw.

"Major applications such as this should automatically be considered in public by the planning committee also."

North Yorkshire Council’s assistant director of planning, Trevor Watson, said: “The application was determined under delegated powers for our officers, as it did not meet the triggers for it to be considered by a committee.

“This is usual for our scheme of delegation for planning applications, and we also did not receive a request from members for the decision to be called in.”