Campaigners: Oakfield Park compromise is like 'someone stealing £100 and expecting praise for giving back £50' - The Rugby Observer

Campaigners: Oakfield Park compromise is like 'someone stealing £100 and expecting praise for giving back £50'

Rugby Editorial 6th Feb, 2020 Updated: 6th Feb, 2020   0

DISAPPOINTED campaigners say a newly-approved plan to build on Oakfield Park – half of which will now reopen to the public after four years behind a fence – feels like ‘someone has pinched £100 and expects praise for giving back £50’.

Developer McCarthy & Stone’s 62-apartment extra care retirement village was granted permission by Rugby Borough Council’s (RBC) planning committee last night (Wednesday February 5), by a close margin of six to five in favour.

The park’s owners, the Heart of England Co-operative Society, fenced it off in 2016 after a plan to build 50 new homes there was rejected by RBC, declining to extend the council’s lease which had stood for 30 years.

McCarthy & Stone’s smaller development means 51 per cent of the Bilton Road park will be handed back to the council free of charge – and the developer will fund a new children’s playground and goalposts at Oakfield, new football pitches at Whinfield Recreation Ground, and enhancements to Caldecott Park in compensation for the loss of open space.

Oakfield Park, prior to being fenced off in 2016 (top), and how it will look when reopened to the public (bottom, artist’s impression).

But a spokesman for campaign group Save Oakfield, which will now be disbanded, said those concessions would be small comfort to New Bilton residents.

Richard Joy said: “In an area already severely lacking in open space, the ward has now lost 20 per cent of green space compared to four years ago.

“Fencing off the field and passing off returning half of it as some kind of gain, but only should developers get their way, appears to have had the desired result for the landowner.

“What is welcome is that residents will have access to a local open space again, and the kids will have a park to play in. But we can’t be too thankful, since the main beneficiary is the very organisation that took it away in the first place.”

Coun Mike Brader, who represents New Bilton, said the plan did not comply with conditions in RBC’s Local Plan regarding development on open space.

He said: “This should be reason enough to reject the application. It’s disappointing it was still approved, and the result is we have lost half of a community park for good. I am concerned too about what precedent this sets for other areas of open space in Rugby.

“This process goes to show how residents’ needs are deemed less important than the desire for a developer or landowner to make a profit.”

The development omits 14 bungalows from McCarthy & Stone’s original plan, which was refused permission in 2018 due to loss of open space.

A council planning officers’ report said the new plan was “a fair, reasonable, positive and pragmatic response to guaranteeing public access to the open space”.

Matt Wills, divisional managing director at McCarthy and Stone, said: “Our revised plans offer a unique opportunity to provide over half of the site as fully accessible public open space, where no public access currently exists.

“The open space will feature new facilities for the enjoyment and recreation of all in the community in perpetuity.

“Furthermore, the extra care accommodation will enhance local housing choice for older residents and create 17 new jobs.”

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