THE High Wycombe Society has called plans to build a new community stadium for Wycombe Wanderers and London Wasps “unacceptable”.

The society rejects proposals to build a 17,500-20,000 seater stadium and sports village at Wycombe Air Park or Abbey Barn South on the grounds of the “massive impact” the project would have on the countryside and residents.

The group also states 'financial benefits for Wycombe District Council and the clubs is highly problematic' and added that it had doubts over the benefits of the mooted sports village and the transport infrastructure.

Society members have called on WDC and the clubs' owner Steve Hayes to develop access routes to Adams Park 'to utilise the full capacity of the existing stadium'.

The statement in full reads:

“The Stadium proposal is an extremely important issue for the town, affecting life in the suburbs, the town’s natural environment and setting, the well being of its two resident major football clubs, and the sports and exercise facilities available to residents.

The Society’s Executive Committee has encouraged all its members to attend the exhibitions and forums arranged by Wycombe District Council, and to submit their own written responses to the consultation.

We recognise that the Council is consulting on a number of options and locations, but we focus below particularly on the proposal for a new stadium and sports village at Wycombe Air Park because we doubt the financial feasibility of the alternative short-listed location (Abbey Barn South).

The Wycombe Air Park option was of course the Council’s original ambition before they took note of the requirements of the planning system, including the need for a Core Strategy amendment, which would require them to defend the Air Park with reference to alternative options.

1. Financial benefits to the town:

We understand that the Council’s intention is that the stadium should be seen as an investment, comparable with the Eden Centre, yielding long-term rental income to the Council and its taxpayers.

That is a laudable aim, but it depends on the financial contracts with the Clubs being right, and we doubt that terms can be negotiated which would be to the Clubs’ benefit or acceptable to them, particularly when the costs of the necessary transport links are added to the project costs (see below).

We also fear that if an apparently satisfactory contract were negotiated, any failure of the external parties to meet their liabilities could lead to the Council facing a very substantial deficit on the project.

2. Retaining the Clubs in the town:

We recognise that both Wycombe Wanderers and London Wasps make a positive contribution to the town’s life, both through the enjoyment of match-goers and the associated outreach and academy activities.

However, local interest and involvement are greater for WWFC than for LWRFC (whose fan base is regional rather than local).

While it would be unfortunate if Wasps were to leave the town, this is not a foregone conclusion: the RFU have suspended their requirement that stadia should have a capacity of 15,000. In any case, if it were to happen, it would not be a catastrophe.

Nothing can guarantee that Wasps will remain in Wycombe, and their reluctance to change their name has to be seen as a measure of their commitment (and it has also limited any contribution they might have made to the town’s reputation).

We believe that both Clubs would find the financial commitment needed by the Council difficult to undertake. The best way to retain WWFC would be through a modest improvement in their existing site and facilities, better access (see below) and no new financial burdens.

(We note an analogy with the Colchester Community Stadium built recently jointly by the Council and the Football Club: the financial burden on the Club meant that ticket prices had to rise, and the gates actually fell.)

3. Prestige and the reputation of the town:

We have heard it argued that a prominent first-class stadium and associated sports village would enhance the town’s reputation. However, the future of the airfield is also an issue of prestige.

The Council has admitted that construction of a stadium would mean that gliding would have to cease. This would be a serious loss, since Wycombe Air Park is known nationally as a gliding location.

But we note from the Council’s discussion forum presentation that, if the enabling development were to take place on the scale stated, this could take up 63 hectares of the 97-hectare airfield (around two-thirds), and we believe that powered flying there would also have to cease.

The airfield is one of the busiest in the country and it has a long and honourable history, bound up with the diverse aviation activities in the town over the past 100 years.

4. Sports Village and Physical Fitness:

We were disappointed to find that so little information was forthcoming at the forums about the assumed benefits of a sports village.

We noted that while one sports representative said they would be glad to have improved facilities, another (representing squash) said they would not be interested because there was a history of clubs moving into multi-sport facilities and then finding themselves displaced by other sports with more money or support.

So while there are benefits in theory, we are not convinced of their reality. The economics of community sports facilities always seem to be precarious, and we fear that this would prove to be a white elephant.

The potential public health benefits of a sports village would be offset by the loss of flying and particularly gliding, which are also outdoor pursuits requiring physical fitness.

5. Access arrangements:

There is currently no easy high-capacity access to Booker Air Park. There has been talk of three, or even four, accesses to a stadium, one of them being a new road joining the A404 Marlow Bypass (where the Highways Agency would need to be satisfied with the feasibility and safety of a new access between Handy Cross and the Marlow exit).

Whatever the solution adopted, there would be substantial traffic impacts in Cressex and Lane End, both on match days and (if the sports village proved popular) at other times, and there would be major cost implications which would have to be loaded on to the project costs to be borne by the Clubs or the Council.

The sports village would need to be served by frequent all-day buses. Currently, buses to the airfield are infrequent and there would be a cost entailed in providing an adequate service.

6. Environmental and Local Impacts:

Booker Air Park is largely surrounded by the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is also in the Green Belt and, although it is classified as a “Major Developed Site in the Green Belt”, Government guidance (PPG2) makes it clear that policies to protect the Green Belt remain in force.

Although there is no public access to the Air Park (save for a public footpath along the northern side) the openness of the airfield contributes significantly to the atmosphere of the surrounding AONB and Green Belt countryside.

The visual impact of a large stadium, which would be prominent in order to advertise itself, of a sports village and of enabling development covering perhaps two-thirds of the existing airfield, would be huge, and unacceptable.

(The enabling development, although primarily housing, would also, we have been advised, need its own community facilities including possibly a primary school and health centre.)

This would amount to a major expansion of High Wycombe south of the M40, an urban sprawl which would impact not only on Booker but on the rural village of Lane End.

7. “Enabling Development”:

Planning law has recognised that enabling development may have its place in generating funds for other development that is in the public interest. However, the test to be overcome is a demanding one.

PPG2 states that new buildings in the Green Belt are “inappropriate” and that very special circumstances to justify inappropriate development will not exist unless the “harm by reason of inappropriateness is clearly outweighed by other considerations.”

The High Wycombe Society would be opposed to any enabling development in the Green Belt, or impacting upon the Chilterns AONB. In this particular case, however, the damage to the openness of the countryside and the landscape quality is huge because of the massive scale of the proposed development. It is unacceptable.

8. Abbey Barn South:

The Abbey Barn South option suffers from many of the drawbacks of the Booker Air Park option, in that much of it is within the Green Belt, and there is a total lack of either existing or potential satisfactory accesses.

It is also difficult to see where sufficient enabling development could go, and we believe that since it is not owned by the Council, any planning gain would not accrue to the Council.

We therefore rule it out as environmentally unacceptable and financially impractical.

9. Remaining at Adams Park – “Option A”:

This is the Society’s preferred option. Although Adams Park is not the ideal size for London Wasps RFC, we understand that the existing physical capacity is 12,000 but that use is restricted to 10,000 because of a limitation imposed by the emergency services on account of the single access.

We consider that if this option is adopted, the Wycombe District Council should make every effort to bring about a second access. This would make the existing stadium more suitable for both existing Clubs.


The proposal for a new stadium and sports village at Booker Air Park is unacceptable because of its massive impact on the countryside and on the communities of Booker and Lane End, the lack of any satisfactory current or future transport connections, the highly problematical nature of its suggested financial benefits to the Council or the Clubs, and the unsubstantiated benefits of the sports village.

We reject Abbey Barn South for similar reasons, but also because, since it is not owned by the Council, we believe that the enabling development route to finance is impractical.

Our preferred option is for the Clubs to remain at Adams Park, and for a new access to be provided to enable them to utilise the full capacity of the existing stadium."