Barton Road Playing Field

 

MOORSIDE FIELDS GROUP PRESENTATION TO LCC DEVELOPMENT CONTROL COMMITTEE

– OBJECTION TO PLANNING APPLICATIONS FOR BARTON ROAD FIELD

10th December 2018

 INTRODUCTION

What is Moorside Fields Community Group?

It is made up of people who are committed to working in the community: People in the clergy members, local councillors, parents of current and former Moorside School children, former teachers from Moorside Primary School, Magistrates, community members from across the neighbourhood; they are our community makers not takers.

WHY A GROUP PRESENTATION?

Since the application mentions the Town Green case, it is important that councillors understand some of the complexities of the situation so that they can make an informed decision.

The Town Green situation has been costly and was wholly avoidable. However, we are reaching the end of the process:  Based on our experience, we’d like to offer some alternative solutions to the current application.

STRUCTURE OF PRESENTATION:

  • Talk about the Background to Moorside Fields and the events which lead to the Town Green Application;
  • The legal consequences if the County Council loses its appeal at the Supreme Court;
  • The way that Moorside School currently uses its playing field;
  • The current planning applications for Barton Road Field;
  • The less expensive, more practical alternatives to the current planning applications.

 

Summary Map of Possible Alternative Solution

 

1.BACKGROUND TO MOORSIDE FIELDS

The Situation in April 2008:

The Land at the back of the school was totally open.

There was a rickety old fence which ran along the path.

There was a meadow field and a school playing field.

In order to access the playing field, children had to walk through a wild flower meadow (which had latterly been mown on a regular basis by the school).

Steve Edwards LCC Countryside Officer said that that field in particular contained some of the rarest grasses he’d ever seen in Lancashire.

The fields were not used very much by the school; the public inquiry established they are waterlogged, not suitable for young children and the teachers did not like using them preferring to use the green space within the school grounds.

There was already an active community of people who used the fields – people used the land for weekend and evening recreation, children played football and rounders on there at weekends and in the school holidays.

They built tree houses, learned about nature, learned about risk in a fairly safe environment.

People also used the fields to visit friends across the locality – it was a busy footpath for people going to school, going to the pub, the vets, Mrs Shukla’s shop.

People looked after the land.

They acted as stewards of the land.

There was an arrangement with the City Council that people would collect litter from the fields and throw it into the compound by the garages at the community centre and from time to time, the refuse collectors would take it away.

A culture had grown up in the 1990’s that parents on their ways back home across the fields from dropping their children off at school would pick litter and keep the fields tidy.

As the land became tidier, people took on a greater sense of pride in the land and the quality of the land spiralled upwards.

In 2008, Moorside School had financial support from Sustrans to develop the cycle track which runs along the playing field and which was the original path used by children to get to the school from Hala Estate.

They also replaced the rickety old fence and fitted a gate onto the field. Then they locked the gate.  Consequences of the gate:

 

  1. It cut the community in half.
  2. It prevented people living on the Racecourse Estate and the top of Bowerham from accessing the land
  3. It denied children at Moorside School of a traffic-free route to school.
  4. It made Betty, a local resident,

A local resident went up to the school to ask the head teacher to unlock the gate at weekends and over the approaching summer holidays.

The head teacher refused to meet to discuss the issue.

Local people met to see how to move this forward.It was felt that the way to progress was to find a solution which was of mutual benefit to the school and local people and we looked at working co-operatively to improve the space for the benefit of everyone.  We formed MFCA to provide a focus for the community and coordinate our activities.

The aims of the group were:

  1. To enhance the area known as Moorside Fields for all the community;
  2. To ensure public access to the fields at all times other than 9:30 – 3:00 during term times:
  3. To restore the meadow field

We approached the school and asked for a meeting with the Governors to discuss the gate but also to discuss possibilities.They refused to meet us.

We spent the next two years trying to get the Governors to agree to meet with the group to discuss Moorside Fields. We failed in our efforts.

Right of Way

 In the meantime, in 2008, the group submitted a Right of Way application from Barton Road end of Durham Avenue to Bowerham Road by the Fox and Goose pub.The school was aware of our application but made no response and still refused to meet.

Right of Way route – applied for 2008. Heard by LCC in 2013. Currently shelved.

Attempts to meet the Governors continued…

We were ignored by the school and denied a meeting despite our best efforts. After years of failing to get to meet the Governors we felt that we were left with no alternative than to submit a Town Green application – it was a bargaining chip – we hoped that we this would make them to meet with us to discuss the fields issue subject to us dropping the application.

This was a misjudgement on our part.

The result of our application was that hell was let loose. The Head teacher held a series of meetings for parents in which he sewed various bits of misinformation (misinformation which exists even now).In two after-school meetings with parents:-

He told parents that the school had met with the group at every opportunity but out of the limelight NOT TRUE. (we actually submitted a FOI to request minutes of these meetings – they do not exist however – because they never happened).

He explained that the impact of a Town Green on Moorside Fields would be that he would not be able to guarantee the safety of children (even though it would actually have been no different to the situation which had been in existence since he had begun his headship at the school 8 years earlier).

He described people who were part of the group as “stupid”, “dangerous’ and ‘selfish’.

Based on witness accounts of the two meetings, the headteacher used inflammatory, belittling language and told people that we were so ‘stupid’ we couldn’t even fill in the correct form (which was quite true – we had completed the wrong form initially – However it made us wonder how he had been made aware of the mistake – especially when we had been given assurances at County Hall that they operated a Chinese Wall).

At the end of each of these meetings, after an hour of misrepresenting the facts, Mr Guest distributed a handout which included Janine Bebbington’s name and address as hon secretary and the Town Green applicant and Mike Worth’s name and address as the group’s chair. The headteacher suggested that people made their views known to them.

Children at the school were encouraged to bang on the school windows and chant ‘off our land’ at people walking on the land during the school days which followed.

Three days after we had submitted our Town Green application, the Lancashire County Council signed a single tender contract to fence off fields A and B. Six weeks later, the playing fields were fenced off completely.  LCC spent £30,000 on this fence of taxpayers’ money on this fence although the procurement rules actually say that ‘3 written quotations should have been invited’ – these rules were not followed in this case.

The tactic seemed to be to beat the community into submission through belittlement and the spread of misinformation which was actually very frightening. It would have been easier to walk away.  However, we did not recognise the people described in the presentations – we had to continue to stand up and speak truth to power – for the good people in the neighbourhood who were being slandered and libelled by the school – for the likes of Betty… We did not expect to win the Town Green – we just wanted to put the truth into the public domain.

PUBLIC INQUIRY

In 2015, the Town Green application was heard at an 8-day public inquiry.

During the hearing, Lancashire County Council’s submissions were made that the land was needed for the construction of additional classrooms to satisfy the Council’s statutory duties to provide primary school places In South Lancaster.

At no time did they make submissions regarding safeguarding of children on the playing fields.

In her report, the Inspector agreed that Fields A, B C and D satisfied the criteria and recommended that they should added to the Towns and Village Green Register.

Town Green Application Land

 

ERECTION OF NEW CLASSROOMS

In 2015, three new classrooms were built at the back of Moorside School.Two of the three classrooms encroach across the boundary onto Town Green Field A.

2. THE CONSEQUENCES OF GOING TO THE LAW

Following the public inquiry, LCC have brought a number of expensive legal challenges to the decision – at the High Court, the Court of Appeal and currently a live application with the Supreme Court. To date, LCC has lost all these legal challenges. It should be pointed out that these legal cases are between LCC and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  So, local taxpayers – your constituents – are doubly hit.  They are paying bring the court cases through their Council Tax and paying to defend the same cases through their general taxation.

At the moment, this is the possible scenario if LCC loses the Town Green appeal at The Supreme Court:

The fence will have to come down;

Two of the classrooms will have to come down;

There is a Right of Way Application which was heard and passed by the Regulatory Committee in 11/9/2013 on the majority of grounds and referred to the Planning Inspectorate for the final decision. As far as we can understand, this application has been since shelved. The untimely manner in which this application has been dealt could see it end at Judicial Review. The application could eventually be heard and won. That will result in a footpath going right through the middle of Barton Road Playing Field.

The implications even if the Town Green is won and the classrooms do not come down is they will be very vulnerable because their massive windows will face into an open field. Prior to the palisade fence going up at the back of the school in the 1990’s, the crime rate at the back of the school was very high with windows being smashed and computers being stolen regularly.  When the palisade fence went up, that trouble stopped.  The positioning of the new classrooms will inevitably cause problems again.

3.THE SCHOOL’S ATTITUDE TO THE LAND

The justification for these applications is that three schools need to use the area for playing fields.

Two of the three schools have disavowed any wish to be involved in these plans. The third – Moorside – uses its astroturf pitch for PE lessons.

It seems very unlikely that the school would ever use Barton Road field. How will the children get there for starters?  It is about a quarter of a mile from Moorside school.  Can you see any responsible teacher wanting to walk a group of children along Barton Road and Bowerham Road?

It seems more likely that this fenced area will remain unused, like the currently fenced off area, because the Moorside astroturf pitch will prove a more convenient option for teachers.

4. THE LIVE PLANNING APPLICATIONS

Amenity

Barton Road field is a popular, well-used green space in South Lancaster.  It has been used by the public since the 1930’s.  It is used by people for walking for both general exercise and as a traffic-free route to the shops in Hala or to visit friends in Newlands and Hala. We think the neighbourhood would suffer if this community space was lost and its residents would become more isolated from each other.

It is a very popular area – there are always people there. You are seldom alone on the fields. People frequently bump into friends and neighbours when there.  People play with their children; groups of kids play impromptu football games; the field is used by runners; people on their mobility scooters are able to access green space – one of the few spaces in South Lancaster where people with mobility issues can do this; it is used by parents taking their children to school on a safe traffic-free route. This fence would stop all of that.

Barton Road field is situated in a leafy suburb of Lancaster primarily of residential housing.  A 2.1m high prison-yard style compound would be totally out of character for the area.  It would be oppressive to walk along Barton Road with such a high fence and it would cause unacceptable harm to the character and appearance of our community.

The fence could potentially put people at risk. The area outside the proposed fence will create enclosed areas – particularly round the back of the Barton Road Centre and its car park; but also along the beck – which could potentially trap people in.  This is particularly bad news for the older users at Barton Road Centre.

Flooding

We are concerned about how close the fence is to Burrow Beck. When the Beck floods, it does so quickly and the flow is fast.  We would be fearful for someone trapped between the fence and the Beck when this happens.  We are  also concerned about the fencing becoming blocked with debris and increasing flooding in the area.  This flooding risk problem affects people’s homes in Hala; as well as Barton Road Centre, where the associated garages have flooded in the past.

Lack of Information and inaccurate information

 There is a notable lack of information from the applicant on which you can base your decision – the Flood Risk Assessment notes that the consultants requested, but not received, necessary information from United Utilities, Lancaster City Council and the Environment Agency. The flood risk assessment is also based on an earlier iteration of the planning application.  Given Lancaster has had such serious issues with flooding in recent years, the applicant should not be allowed to take such a slapdash approach to Flood Risk assessment.

The application states also that Moorside school has only areas A-F available to it – an area of 5348 m2. This is highly misleading.  The school’s playground has not been included in this calculation.  The playground that the teachers choose to park on is not included in this calculation.  The calculations do not include Dingly Dell – an area which is used often by the children.

The guidelines that the applicant has used to calculate the area required for the school describe the definition of playing field. Quite clearly the playgrounds and Dingly Dell are encompassed by this definition.  [1]

We have used Mario to calculate the area that the school actually has available to it. Within the school grounds there is 18370m2 of land which fits the definition given in the guidelines.

If you include the allotments – another 5190m2 – the school actually has the best part of 24000m2, well over the area that the guidelines says it needs.There is no justification for fencing off Barton Road field.

 

5. THE ALTERNATIVES

The strategy adopted to date by the County Council has been very costly – both financially and also in terms of the damage and disharmony which has been created in the area. There are alternatives to the current proposals.

The Community VisionIn 2012, whilst we were awaiting the Public Inquiry, we consulted with local people on how they would like the land to be used. The result was a comprehensive vision for Moorside Fields which addresses many of the issues with the land – it put meanders back in Burrow Beck to slow the flow of water and to reduce flood- risk; it opens up a traffic-free route to school running along the line of the applied for right of way – thus encouraging children to walk to school in safety away from the chaos of the roads which surround the school at the beginning and end of the day. It puts a cycle track in along the beck running from the top of Hala to Barton Road Community Centre which would provide an alternative route for bicycles, mobility scooters and walkers.

 

AN ALTERNATIVE SOLUTION

 If this application is really about what is best for the children at the school, there is a more cost effective and practical solution – that would be for the school playing field to be moved to the meadow field – Field A – so that the land is closer to the school.

That Town Green Parcel Field A could then be exchanged for the old allotment which is a damp, sloping, difficult piece of land (which is not part of the designated Town Green land). The Barton Road Field could be left as a Designated Green Space under the City Council’s Local Plan until it runs out in 2030.  This would show the County Council’s commitment to the Local Plan and to local people.

It also gives the children at the school a playing field space which is closer to Moorside School and so is more practical and it frees up space to create a traffic-free route to school across the fields.

We implore you to think again and reject this application and open a dialogue with the community in the event that the Town Green appeal is lost by the County Council at the Supreme Court.

We believe we can work co-operatively with County Councillors to make something better for the school, local people and the County Council. It just takes courage, co-operation and creative-thinking.  Moorside Fields Community Group is committed to talking to whoever we can to improve this situation to avoid more years of disruption and legal expenses to the taxpayer. Let’s think again.

If the motive of the County Council is to take back control of a financially valuable asset i.e. Barton Road Field, then nothing that we have presented will make any difference to your decision.However, if you are open to exploring alternative solutions, we urge you to look again.