COUNCILLORS have approved a planning application to secure the future of Lymm Rugby Football Club and ensure it remains solvent in its current form.

The club’s application proposed a change of use for the external storage of caravans for an 18-month temporary period at the club, on Crouchley Lane.

It was passed, as recommended, by the council’s development management committee during its virtual meeting last Wednesday.

The application site consists of two areas of hardstand – area A and area B – to the north and south of a walled garden within the existing rugby club complex.

The applicant has allowed the siting of a varying number of caravans and camper vans on the pieces of land since May 2020, initially making use of permitted development rights to do so.

However, as these rights have now been exceeded, a grant of temporary planning permission now would regularise a breach of planning control.

It was proposed to store up to a maximum of 75 caravans/motor homes for a period of up to 18 months.

Planning documents said the club’s partnering with Ravenbank Caravans for a temporary period, for their mutual benefit, is ‘capable of control’ via a personalised condition, as well as a condition requiring the cessation of the proposed caravan storage use following the expiry of the temporary period.

But Lymm Parish Council objected to the scheme on highways grounds.

It believed there is insufficient space for the safe manoeuvre and parking of vehicles while caravans are in transit, particularly with the potential high capacity of caravans at the site.

The club provided detailed information to show that Covid-19 restrictions have impacted severely on its ability to generate income from the usual range of sporting and social activities they host.

While the financial impact of coronavirus restrictions alone does not amount to a very special circumstance, it is ‘material to consider’ the likely consequences of the club’s loss of income insofar as these may relate to the social, economic and environmental objectives of the National Planning Policy Framework.

The club has forecast a loss for the 2020/21 financial year of £25,000, but income from caravan storage is estimated at around £24,000.

A statement in the report for last Wednesday’s meeting said: “On this basis the club state that the proposed caravan storage would provide vital income which when added to retained profits from the previous year will help ensure that Lymm Rugby Club in its current form remains solvent.

“The implications of the collapse of the club are significant and would have a detrimental impact upon the wider community.”

Planning officers said the proposed development would be inappropriate in the green belt and is therefore, by definition, harmful to the green belt.

However, the harm to green belt ‘by way of inappropriateness alone’ was considered to be outweighed by the very special circumstances of securing the future of a long-established community facility through the pandemic and to ensure the club continues to provide valued sport and social venues, along with continuing to support and develop grassroots rugby union.