AN application for an artificial turf pitch at St James C of E Primary School in Okehampton has been turned down by West Devon Borough Council despite receiving 35 letters of support.Councillors at WDBC’s development management and licensing committee decided last week to reject the planning application for change of use from a grass to artificial turf pitch.

They heard from resident Glennon Chatting-Walters that his home would be overlooked by the new pitch and its three-metre high fence.

‘Our street is recommending it should be refused, your planners are recommending it should be refused so please refuse it and build it as it was originally shown on the plans.’

Michaela Myerscough, one of the parents from St James Primary School, made a plea for the plans to be approved however.

She said the pitch was further away from the homes than was indicated on the plans, with the houses being 23.6 metres from the new astroturf pitch, and not 18.9 metres as indicated.

She said the fence was three metres high ‘for good reasons, for safeguarding, for the privacy of the neighbours and for preventing balls going over the fence into neighbouring gardens and it will also provide a more security when not in use against vandalism’.

‘Lastly, yes, I’m also emotionally involved in this because I am a parent. As parents we all want what is best for our children and it is vital that the children of St James are granted access to this fantastic space so they can run, explore, play, learn and express themselves in a spacious, safe environment.’

Cllr Tony Leech, who is borough councillor for the ward which includes the site, explained that the pitch was being planned long before the housing development existed. ‘The houses you can now see on the drawings, those houses weren’t even built when this whole thing started, that is how long it has been going on,’ he said.

The county council had already agreed to the pitch in principle in 2017 and WDBC approved it as an all-weather astroturf in November last year, albeit at a level 80cm lower than now being proposed.

Cllr Leech said he felt the problem stemmed from a pile of topsoil which had raised the level of the site.

‘I think that if the main contractor had removed the topsoil, and a grass playing field was installed, then I don’t think anyone would have worried,’ he said.’

The school, which opened in 2019 alongside new housing on the eastern side of Okehampton, will ultimately accommodate 420 pupils.

The artificial turf pitch will allow for PE sessions all year round. There were ten letters of objection from residents as well as 35 letters of support, many from parents. The sporting body Sport England also objected to the proposal of an artificial pitch in principle, saying one already existed in Okehampton's Simmons Park and querying how the ongoing maintenance costs would be met.

A spokesperson for the Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust, which runs the school, said: ‘As a school, we are dedicated to ensuring our pupils have access to excellent sport and activity facilities to help enhance and support their health, wellbeing and school experience.

‘Whilst we are disappointed in the council’s decision, we will now carefully consider the comments raised during this process to help determine the best way forward to ensure we are providing the best outdoor opportunities for our pupils.’