THE expansion of Gloucestershire County Cricket Club has been approved at the second time of asking, paving the way for more international matches in Bristol.
The city council's development control (north) committee last night voted by seven to three in favour of the plans, including the controversial apartment block that has sparked protests from ward councillors and residents living nearby.
The club will now demolish the Mound and Jessop stands, installing 7,500 permanent seats and a plush new pavilion, allowing for a potential crowd of 17,000 in future.
The £10 million expansion is only made possible by the building by Linden Homes of 147 one, two and three-bedroom apartments in a six-storey development on the Ashley Down Road side of the ground.
Revised plans were considered by councillors last night after the original scheme was narrowly thrown out in January – when the committee had a slightly different membership – mainly due to concerns about the original planned height of a seven-storey block of flats.
Architects took out one storey and lowered the penthouse suites, while retaining the 147 homes by extending the building on one side.
After the decision at the Council House the club's chief executive Tom Richardson said: "We feel great about it. That was obviously the result we were seeking. I would like to thank everyone who supported us, and of course the team who worked so hard."
Mr Richardson said he hoped building would start in September and the improved ground would be ready to host a lucrative international between England and India in 2014.
"It will benefit the city," Mr Richardson said. "People come and stay in hotels and about £1 million is generated for a one-day international. That's not to be sniffed at."
Speaking during the debate before the application was approved, Mr Richardson said: "This is a critical moment for this cricket club. We want to go forward as a vibrant and successful organisation, which plays a significant part in the life of the city of Bristol and is also a key part of the community."
The application received 1,392 letters of support and endorsements from the likes of Bristol Chamber of Commerce director James Durie and Paul Russell, the former chairman of Glamorgan Cricket Club, where a similar expansion brought an Ashes Test match.
But residents remain concerned about a lack of parking spaces for people who move into the apartments, as well as its effect on nearby Ashley Down Junior School. There will be only 111 basement parking spaces for the 147 apartments.
The committee received 157 letters against the development and parents fear the six-storey block will still overshadow the school playground.
Speaking on behalf of local residents' campaign group Howzat, Elinor Ni Chathain objected to the "scale and mass" of the residential development. She said the changes to the original application were so minimal, it counted as a "free go" requiring no planning fee and she felt the "Lego option" had been taken.
Daniella Radice, a concerned parent, told the committee: "You're being asked to damage the environment of Bristol children for the sake of one match per year. I think this development is far too big."
Bishopston ward Liberal Democrat councillors Dr David Willingham and Bev Knott both spoke passionately against the application.
Dr Willingham said it would cause "substantial harm to the community", largely due to the increase in population near a school that is already oversubscribed.
He told the committee: "If you support the application you will fail not only the residents of Bristol, but every council tax payer."
The cricket club and Linden Homes came in for criticism for offering relatively little in terms of money for local improvement schemes under a planning deal to mitigate any negative effects to the area.
The club has agreed to give £83,462 towards highway improvements but will go no further than that, estimating its community contributions are worth about £1,262,250 over the next 15 years. It has also pledged to introduce a learning scheme for local youngsters called No Boundaries.
Galliford Try, Linden Homes' parent company, has now pledged £25,000 from its corporate responsibility fund, which will go towards education, and has said it will employ local apprentices when building takes place. But Dr Willingham told the meeting that the company was expected to make about £5.8 million profit from the development.
The council's planning officers recommended approval of the revised plans, as they had done for the original application, which had been refused by six votes to four.
PUBLICATION: This is Bristol - 31 May 2012