TRANMERE Rovers' plans to sell its former training ground to make way for redevelopment have been approved by Wirral's planning committee tonight.
Councillors voted by eight to five in favour of the scheme, which went hand-in-hand with a parallel plan to create four full-sized football pitches plus one junior academy pitch and one training area on land near the Solar Campus in Leasowe that was also approved.
Rovers' new owner, Mark Palios, who took over control of the club with wife Nicola earlier this month, said last week that the club's future would be jeopardized if the sale of its former training ground was rejected, adding that it was key to the club's self-sustainability.
The land will be used to make way for a future development of 90 houses.
All money raised from its sale will be placed into an account to pay for the development in Leasowe.
Addressing the committee on behalf of Mr Palios, Rovers' chief executive Jeremey Butler said: "Nicola and Mark are committed to having a football club that Wirral can be proud of.
"A move to Solar Campus is crucial to the club's future."
During the debate at Wallasey Town Hall tonight, committee members heard from those both in favour and against the plans.
Campaigners were concerned that the move to Solar Campus would lead to an increase in noise and traffic.
Among committee members voting against the plans was Cllr Denise Realey, who was concerned that Ingleborough field's sale would not benefit the area, leading to the loss of an open space for Birkenhead.
Ingleborough is also a memorial to 88 former students of Birkenhead Institute, who lost their lives in the First World War. Campaigners were concerned that the plan to sell Ingleborough fields was "disrespectful" to their memories.
As part of the recommendations, a plaque currently housed in Ingleborough's pavilion will be moved to Hamilton Square and a plaque honouring the soldiers' sacrifice will be sited across the road from the playing fields.
A decision on the proposals was deferred by Wirral planning committee last month until site visits had taken place.
The schemes had the support of the club's supporters' trust, who recently said development would be in the interests of the wider community and the club.
Speaking after the plans were approved, trust chairman Ben Harrison told the Globe: "It's good news for the future of the club. It needs to stand on its own two feet.
"The club's been around for 130 years, we want it to be around for another 130 years."
In a statement - that was read out by Jeremy Butler at tonight's meeting - Mr Palios said last week: "We have already publicly stated that our plans to make Tranmere Rovers Football Club self-sustainable are predicated on two planks.
“One is being a development club and the other is being more than a Football Club, with Rovers becoming a sports hub in the heart of the community.
“The move to Solar Campus is a central part of our thinking and if we fail to achieve this aim it will present a serious set-back to our plans.
“If we are unable to follow through on our plans to build a first class academy complex at Solar Campus, the club will find it impossible to provide the adequate training facilities required to retain our prized Category 3 Academy status.
“Failing to gain Category 3 status would mean Tranmere Rovers losing the crucial central funding provided to Football League clubs and this would put in jeopardy our ability to continue with our youth development programme.
“This would stop the current and future generation of youngsters achieving their dreams of playing professional football and also end the work the Academy does in the community in helping young people on the Wirral.”
He added: “The sale of players from our Academy has raised over £15m in recent years and income of that level is impossible to find in the current climate.
“So on several levels it is important for Tranmere Rovers and the Wirral community that we are successful with our plans to move to Solar Campus.
“We are truly excited about this project and the benefits it can bring to the area as a whole.”
The plan to sell Ingleborough field had sparked controversy, with campaigners calling it “disrespectful” to the memories of Wirral soldiers killed in the First World War.
Eighty-eight trees representing the fallen soldiers were planted around the field as a living memorial to the dead in the 1920s.
The council and Tranmere Rovers will also work with Birkenhead Institute Old Boys (BIOB) to discuss their concerns over the plaques.
Speaking on behalf of the group, Alun Hughes told the Globe after tonight's meeting: "It's disappointing, but I think we now have a way forward. It's our hope that Tranmere Rovers will now agree to meet with us to work through this issue."