ALVECHURCH FC are refusing to take no for an answer in their quest to complete the club’s move to The Hayes facility from their current Lye Meadow home.
The club has worked with two local councils in their attempts to secure planning permission to move all of their teams to the 20-acre site off Redhill Road and Redditch Road.
Church have already installed a 3G pitch, clubhouse, changing rooms and car park but now require more funds to complete the £1.6 million development.
And club Chairman Richard Thorndike insists Alvechurch have overcome several hurdles to achieve these feats having been originally told that the land was not for a sale – a decision that took two years to overturn.
Thorndike said: “When a goal needs to be achieved, it has proved better for us not to accept the first few ‘nos’ and plough on regardless.
“If we had accepted any one of the 111 ‘nos’ said to us since we embarked on our journey, then The Hayes would still be a closed, unused, muddy field in a corner of West Heath, South Birmingham.
“Instead, The Hayes is a vibrant hub used and enjoyed by all corners of the community, albeit unfinished and a shadow of what it could become.
“We were told ‘No, you can’t put floodlights anywhere on the site because it has been labelled a ‘resilience area’ by the Home Office back in 1927 for cases of wartime or natural disaster’.
“In simple terms, there are places all over the country that have been earmarked to be used as areas for the convening of our military elite and for strategic planning against whatever is facing us at the time.
“This meant no 3G, no car park and no floodlights – three big ‘nos’ all at once.”
However, following a make-or-break meeting with site owners Birmingham City Council in the summer of 2016, the club were finally able to start their development of The Hayes.
Thorndike added: “A bright spark stated that, in the event of a disaster, wouldn’t it be useful to have lighting already on site just in case our invaders weren’t polite enough to carry out their attack in daytime?
“After that, it was formally agreed that floodlights would in fact be a good thing and the go ahead was given – we crossed off three big ‘nos’ all in one go.
“Then, we received a ‘no’ from the University of Birmingham who have a state of the art telescope situated next door but one to the Hayes which is immediately adjacent to Birmingham City’s training ground.
“Blues had all of their applications for floodlights rejected on the grounds that light pollution would interfere with the telescope as it searched and recorded interesting developments in our galaxy and beyond.
“That means another ‘no’ as the previous hierarchy at Birmingham worked on the basis that ‘if we can’t have lights, then why should they?”
With the club’s quest almost brought to an end, a breakthrough was made after it was discovered that, of the UK’s 60-plus observatories some 13 had floodlit sports facilities (11 football pitches and two tennis courts).
Thorndike said: “We armed ourselves with proof as well as some statements from a Royal Observatory which confirmed very little or no interference from the close proximity of the floodlights.
“This led to a concession for direct testing in January 2017, where the temperature sank as low as minus eight degrees, and some of us ended up 60 feet in the air courtesy of a cherry picker, holding a new Phillips LED floodlight.
“There were people sat in the observatory tower with the acclaimed Professor of Birmingham University’s Astronomy department, taking photos of the night sky.
“The light pollution from the brand new, efficient, LED floodlights was not enough to cause interference with the telescope.
“This led to an agreement between Alvechurch and the university which meant the floodlights could be installed so long as they were turned off by 11pm.
“Interestingly, Birmingham City used our precedent to get their own floodlights installed on their 3G pitch meaning that all of their academy players could now also train in the winter.
“After all of the ‘nos’ one simple yes prevailed – and it only ever takes one.”
Alvechurch have since been able to deliver a community 3G facility with a cafe and car park, which is regularly enjoyed by more than 2,000 people each week.
It also means that most sectors of the community can now play football at The Hayes.
The club’s ‘Ability Counts’ programme has made a promising start whilst their female section has grown from one to four teams.
Additionally, Alvechurch’s ‘Wildcats’ and ‘Tiny Tekkers’ programme’s sees children as young as three take part in football related activities each week whilst the older members of the community enjoy at least one game of walking football every Friday.
Now, the club are trying to overturn the last few ‘nos’ which includes one from Alvechurch Parish Council which considers their Lye Meadow ground to be public open space.
The club disputes this as the space is not open to the public who must pay to enter the ground and it is surrounded on all sides by a two-metre high fence – an FA ground grading requirement which dates back to 2012.
This is some seven years prior to the submission of Alvechurch’s application to leave Lye Meadow.
The Parish Council has also said it did not consider the area to be ‘previously developed land’ despite the club’s best efforts to historically prove that larger stands and old clubhouse’s have been demolished in the middle of the site which is recognised by the local council.
Furthermore, the Parish Council recognise that the land is in ‘green belt’ with the ‘very special circumstances rule’ yet to be determined.
However, the rule has been previously determined at The Hayes with the current bone of contention relating to whether or not the two sites are linked which, if proven, would qualify both sites for the ‘very special circumstances rule’.
Thorndike insists: “Everyone who lives nearby, everyone who uses The Hayes and everyone who knows anything about Alvechurch FC, knows that they are inexorably linked.
“The Hayes, in its current form, wouldn’t exist but for Alvechurch FC.
“Sport England, the FA, the local MP, Gary Sambrook, the local community (reinforced with over 2,500 signatures on a petition in favour of the application) and all of Alvechurch FC club members (now over 500) are in favour of the planning application.
“This will free up funds to properly deliver the rest of The Hayes development.
“Even with all of this evidence and all of this support, bizarrely, the Parish Council and one or two Councillors are still saying no.
“We’ve all seen what one ‘yes’ means for the community and we really hope that the Planning Committee at Bromsgrove and Redditch District Council are in agreement when they eventually sit to determine our fate.
“The application has been in for well over three years now – the power of one more ‘yes’ cannot be understated.”
Thorndike concludes: “Another ‘no’ means no more work for anyone on the project. It means things stay as they are. A ‘no’ is nice and comfortable. A ‘no’ means we might, at last, go away.
“It is a brave and courageous thing to say ‘yes’.
“When it makes complete sense for both sites, delivers much needed housing in an underdeveloped area, enhances facilities to include better disabled access, more grass to play on to grow the game, more chance of survival for a proud club at the heart of its community, more coaches to go out into local schools and improve wellbeing and mental happiness for children, then it is not just brave and courageous to say ‘yes’, it is absolutely the right thing to do.”