By Richard Edwards
14 February 2023
Given the enormity of the events facing the world at the current, it’s seemed incongruous for a humble cricket club from Dorset to muscle its way into a news agenda dominated by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the global headwinds battering the world’s major economies.
In early January, the Daily Telegraph reported that Colehill CC was under threat as a result of neighbours’ complaints relating to cricket balls potentially causing damage to nearby properties – and the people who lived in them.
It didn’t take long for the club to rally support among the cricket community – including former and present England captains Michael Vaughan and Ben Stokes – and raise the £35,000 required to buy nets to shelter those gardens and houses from the balls being smashed by the bats of those players eyeing a maximum.
In reality, though, this story was about far more than one club. In fact, it related to age-old cricket clubs up and down the country, the developments on their doorstep, and, of course, the sport’s governing body.
And the story itself was far more nuanced than Stokes, Vaughan, the Telegraph, and countless other media outlets first appreciated.
In an exclusive interview with the Club Cricket Conference Newsletter, Daniel Musson, Head of Facilities Planning at the ECB, revealed that the issues highlighted by the Colehill fight extend well beyond the properties benefiting from the protective mesh that will be rolled out before the start of the 2023 season.
“It’s increasingly common issue and a very live issue the last 10 years,” he says. “ Year on year, were seeing more and more cases with dozens of clubs. Clubs that are in a situation like Colehill - a situation where developments have grown around the ground, and grounds that were appropriate for cricket years ago arent anymore.
“That’s a very difficult thing for individual clubs to deal with, both on a practical level, and on an emotional level in some cases too.
But there is no doubt about it, with modern technology, modern bats, and the way that people play the game even nowadays, a ground that may have been perfect for cricket 100 years ago, might not be so today.”
How many cricket clubs are aware of the advice and help – either financial or practical – they can receive from the ECB remains to be seen, but Musson’s department is a busy one.
Which is hardly surprising given the sport’s unique susceptibility to aggressive planning developments.
“To give you an idea around, about 30% of cricket grounds in the country are in long term asset ownership by Cricket Clubs,” he says.
“In football, about 93% of the grounds are local authority-owned, and in Rugby, the asset-base is about half that of cricket.
“The second factor is that, as a sport, we are the biggest risk in terms of ball strike. You could argue about golf as well but very few golf courses are located adjacent to risk factors.”
So, as Vaughan suggested on Twitter when he first became aware of the issues facing Colehill, isn’t the buyer of a property fully responsible for the impact of a ball strike having bought a property next to a cricket ground?
“The law of the land is very clear actually,” says Musson. “It’s absolutely not a relevant issue to say that the cricket ground was there before the houses and that people must accept when they buy a place, that the duty of care in civil and criminal law for anyone partaking in any activity lies with the individual. That responsibility lies with the club itself.”
Musson and his team have dealt with 400 issues surrounding cricket clubs in the past year – a significant rise year-on-year. But these are only the cases where clubs have reached out to the ECB for help.
Many go straight to the local council to attempt to resolve the issue, or don’t realise there are issues relating from a potential development in the original instance. Which is where the main problems arise.
“Once planning permission is granted the risk and the obligation becomes the cricket clubs,” he says. “So its always useful that if there’s an issue, a club lets us know, either through their affiliated county organisation (cricket board or foundation) they can get in touch with our team directly. We have an email address which is email@example.com.
So, if anyone has any issues they’re aware of then we can assign a member of our team to help.
“The message is, don’t just trust the local authority process. We pick up 95% of issues through that process but it’s the five per cent that don’t get picked up that become a problem. The planning process is all important with potential adjacent development.
“The planning process is 13 weeks, typically. However, at any stage in that process, if any application is deemed to have insufficient evidence, it can be delayed until those objections are rectified. Our advice, with Sport England, forms the basis of statutory objections on a huge amount of applications and until the applicant actually provides evidence that those objections can be resolved then that application will stall.”
Over 200 objections a year are placed as a result of the ECB’s and Sport England’s combined work, providing a lifeline for clubs who might otherwise have been seeking answers without expert help. The ECB also runs a subsided service alongside Labosport UK Ltd which helps clubs to analyse and assess the risk of any development. https://labosport.com/consulting/planning/ball-trajectory-risk-assessment/
In a world where development is rampant, and the land around cricket clubs becomes more and more valuable, this is a problem that’s not going away anytime soon. The good news is that help is on hand.