Prenton rugby club could be set for funding boost

A rugby club in an area with “nothing” could be set for a funding boost if plans for 33 homes go ahead.

In 2023, Birkenhead School re-applied for planning permission for 33 homes on a sports ground off Noctorum Lane on the Wirral but this was rejected again by Wirral Council.

A previous refusal had been on the grounds the development wouldn’t see enough replacement for the loss of a sports field but since then, Birkenhead School has promised it would fund a wide range of improvements at Prenton RUFC if the plans go ahead.

An appeal hearing is due on 12 March which will see the Planning Inspectorate, a government body, decide whether the plans should go ahead.

The money poured into the sports club on Prenton Dell Road could see a new building developed on the site with a public gym and cafe, better drainage and new floodlit pitches, as well as a new sports hall at Birkenhead School.

Brian Elkerton in front of National Grid land they’re hoping to open up to the public. Credit: Ed Barnes

The rugby club is also set to sign a new lease with the National Grid to expand into nearby land to create a new nature reserve for the public to enjoy on the edge of Birkenhead. The funding from the development is also expected to help support other initiatives on site such as new accessible toilets, new nature trails for Scouts and a nearby alpaca farm, and its community garden.

The plans for 33 homes have been opposed by hundreds of residents in Noctorum who believe the plans would see the loss of “a quiet oasis in the middle of Birkenhead.” 1,600 people signed a petition against the plans to build on land designated green space under Wirral Council’s draft Local Plan even though it is not open to the public.

When it rejected the plans, the council said it was against its own development policies, arguing that even if it were to be approved, “the benefits of development are significantly and demonstrably outweighed by the adverse impacts and therefore planning permission should be refused.”

Dina Thomas and Samwell Shawcross. Credit: Ed Barnes

However, those who use the rugby club believe this opposition is “ridiculous”. Samwell Shawcross, whose children with his partner Dina Thomas attend the club, said, “They are missing the big picture as well. That is where I grew up and I can understand why. You do not want anything to change but it’s not benefiting anymore. They are not losing anything.”

He said he was most excited for the potential new gym, adding, “It’s very shortsighted. Give it a year, the houses would have been built and everyone moves on but here it will carry on and carry on. It wouldn’t even block anyone’s view.”

Dina said the redevelopment would be great saying the club had surprised her by getting her son Castiel into rugby, adding, “I thought I would bring him and if he didn’t like it, I would take him home. He just got in there and just started having fun. I got home and thought how did we not know he liked rugby?”

She said, “My kids have never come home with a scratch and they’re playing rugby,” adding, “They are just coming to have fun and have a good time.”

As a parent, she said it was reassuring to know there was somewhere her three children are safe and kept out of trouble. She said, “You can come here for free. You can go for walks. I know that the more that is in the community for the kids, it will stop a lot of the naughty behaviour,” adding, “They need something. There’s nothing around here. It’s good for the young ones to mix with everyone and it helps them understand certain things.

“If you are opposing something that is going to better everyone, we live in a time of a lot of change and you have to think about the kids.”

The community garden at Prenton RUFC. Credit: Ed Barnes

Brian Elkerton, development manager for Prenton said, “It’s not just a rugby sports club. We are trying to encourage the whole community to use our facilities. The more people who use it, the more money they will spend up here.

“The history of this estate over the years, they have lost a youth club, a football cafe, and a community centre. Though the community’s getting better, they do not have a base and we want to provide that base for the community.”

Craig Elkerton, the youth officer at the club, said, “That’s the beauty of our place. A lot of other places are sports focused but the kids can go in the community garden and can go on nature walks,” adding, “What we are trying to do is offer as many things as we can get. The same with the pitches but they can’t play on them all year around at the moment.”

One aspect of the club is the community garden which last year produced so many onions and potatoes they took them to sell at nearby shops.

Gordon Knapman. Credit: Ed Barnes

Gordon Knapman who works in the garden said it was an important part of the club, adding, “They make new friends and they learn different stuff. We manage to help out in the community and we manage to do all of that in just this little area. Everywhere was just scrub before.”

Wirral Council was approached for comment.

Lead image: (L-R) Brian Elkerton, Dina Thomas, and Samwell Shawcross. Credit: Ed Barnes

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