Should you appeal?

Of course, we recognise that development of any part of Oakfield was never the ultimate aim of Save Oakfield. The ideal situation would be that the land be reinstated in full for the use of the local community, but there comes a need to look at this application objectively. While recognising that the primary purpose of Save Oakfield was never to seek a compromise position, it makes sense to weigh up the pros and cons of this application. Only you can decide whether to object to the proposal. Even within the group, opinion Is divided, and we expect this to be the case across the community – to what extent, we don’t know. 

Some people will fall into the “it should not be developed on, it’s protected open space, it is in an area of great deficiency and so it’s obvious that no development should occur” category. Others will have the mind-set “we cannot use the land right now, there’s no guarantee that the fences will be removed if McCarthy & Stone are unsuccessful, and while this is going on my kids are growing up and I have nowhere local to take them, or nowhere local to exercise my dog”. We think each approach carries equal merit, but it is up to you to decide which category you fall in to. 

With this in mind, we will try to help. 

What are the benefits of this application?

Firstly, around a hectare of open space would be made available once more, and it would be available by the time the monolith is built. 

For the majority of objections relating to open space, which has always been our primary focus, this means that the facility to have a casual game of football, rounders or Frisbee with the kids would exist once more, although not a full sized game of football. For the dog-walkers, there would be space to do this. There would be a new kiddies playground and RBC Parks & Gardens informs us that should it go ahead it would be constructed in such a way that it could be expanded should demand be there. This is a much improved proposal when compared to where we were. 

It also means that the fence comes down within a year or two. This is something that absolutely cannot be guaranteed in the event of this application being rejected. Many of the people we have spoken to have indicated a willingness to sacrifice some of the open space just to have access to a reasonable amount once more; this would achieve that. It’s a long way from being a preferred outcome, but it is realistic outcome. 

It also draws a line under the whole thing. The remaining land would be in the hands of Rugby Borough Council, rather than on a lease. Even if the land owners did remove the fences, in all likelihood the best outcome would be a lease on the land once more rather than an outright purchase. All this does is shift the problem on by 5 / 10 / 20 years and, by that time, it is possible that the provision standards of RBC will change. Should that happen, then the main piece of legislation we have to defend Oakfield may have been removed. There’s no reason to think that will happen, but on the other hand, there are no guarantees that it won’t, especially with a land owner who has demonstrated a keen-ness to challenge those standards (more about that later). 

McCarthy & Stone also comment on ‘good neighbours’. They did say that during their public consultation day back in November 2017 that some people commented that they didn’t want Oakfield to be developed on but, if it had to be, they would rather a development like this one. No-one from Save Oakfield witnessed any such conversation, but we have no great reason to doubt their accuracy. 

The other issue is whether Rugby Borough Council could actively pursue a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO). The only way this whole saga could be drawn to a close is when Oakfield Rec is in the hands of RBC, but the Heart of England Co-operative is not obliged to sell the land to RBC. It begs the question whether a CPO is likely? 

The valuation, and the amount RBC would have to pay, attached to a CPO is largely determined by a ‘hope value’. That is to say, what is the maximum amount of money the land owner could reasonably expect to achieve on that piece of land?

Do we genuinely believe that an application for twelve houses, six houses or fewer would be rejected, even at appeal level? If the answer is that a smaller development would ultimately be accepted, then it is unlikely that RBC could ever buy the land at its value as open green space, which means that RBC would have to justify spending more money on the land than it is ultimately worth as open space. With this in mind, it seems unlikely RBC would ever pursue a CPO, so the question has to be asked about how Oakfield ends up back in the hands of those that would seek to provide Oakfield as a community space once more. If no realistic answer to that question exists then is this compromise position a reasonable one?

Why might I want to object? 

Well, the most obvious one is that this is already in a ward with insufficient open space and by quite a significant margin. McCarthy & Stone, in spite of our request not to do so, did pursue its appeal against the Local Plan but was once more refused a hearing. This refusal occurred on October 15th. They could have appealed one more time but chose not to. This is to their credit, but on the other hand they did choose to pursue it beyond the point where we asked them to stop. 

It therefore doesn’t sit comfortably with us having entered into our discussions with them in good faith, and having explained that their pursual of this appeal made it feel as though they were planning some kind of sting in the tail. As far as we are concerned this was an attempt to undermine the conversations we were having. We explained this to them face to face with four of their representatives so they could have been in no doubt that this was the case. 

However, they have now twice failed to have RBCs provision standard of 2.6 hectares per 1000 people of Amenity Green Space and Parks & Gardens combined adjusted, so it can be considered robust. 

A south side development prevents views across the previously open field being achieved from Bilton Road, and infringes on those houses on the opposite side of Bilton Road also. McCarthy & Stone describes its development as ‘repairing the road’ by filling in the gap – we think this is much more of a destruction than a repair. 

We have also raised the issue that this creates a third left hand turn as you approach town from Bilton Road. Given the recent incidents, including a couple of recent fatalities along Bilton Road in recent years, we have requested that this is looked into. The close proximity of these left hand turns will inevitably lead to late or misleading signals by drivers. We did suggest that perhaps an entrance via the Funeralcare would be safer, utilising something that was already there. No solution has been provided is another reason for objection, but as the WCC Roads and Highways were always accepting of the proposal, it is a hard point to argue. However, repeated junctions will lead to late and confusing signalling, and recent fatalities along Bilton Road must surely be addressed by any company referring to itself as a responsible developer. 

McCarthy & Stone are also arguing that 59% of the open space that is freed up, but this includes the Bowling Green. It is obvious that if, as local residents, we are being told that 59% of the open space is being made available once more then we would absolutely expect this to relate to Oakfield Recreation Ground. This has been explained by representatives of Save Oakfield in communications with McCarthy & Stone in email… 

“Also, for note, the bowling green has incorrectly been included as part of the plan area. It has never been part of the open space which is clearly defined by very visible hedgerows. The bowling green has never been publicly accessible and has no visual amenity value since it is not overlooked in any direction. As such, it simply should not be considered. Having read over the documentation that supported the appeal, there seems no legitimate reason for including the bowling green within the application site. Seemingly, its purpose is to enhance some percentage figures. The fact is that the public will perceive the application site as being Oakfield Rec, as defined by those visible hedgerows and “what they are used to”. To suggest that they might receive a greater percentage than the amount truly on offer will only serve to erode trust and, from our perspective, it is a point we will have no choice but to emphasize.”

… and was previously described by RBC as a ‘red herring’ during the previous application. 59% is therefore an exaggeration of the benefit that would be achieved, and the actual figure in terms of open space which would become available would be much nearer to 50%. 

Being obtuse with the figures is not a reason for refusal in itself, but is a reason for McCarthy & Stone not garnering trust. Equally, that they pursued RBC twice for an appeal against its Local Plan with a view to reducing the open space standards, doesn’t bode well for public relations. Again, this is not a reason for refusal of this application, but on both of these points Save Oakfield advised McCarthy & Stone that if they want to garner any public support then these kind of actions will never be viewed favourably by the public.

The decision is yours

So there are the pros and the cons of the application weighed up. From here, you need to decide whether you object to this application or not. 

As previous applications included no notable amount of open space, it was easy for us as a group to anticipate the feelings of the community. This time it is less easy, because even as a group we are split into which categories we fall into. 

Save Oakfield will be objecting, as our own red lines have not been met. However, a couple of members of the group will be leaving the group shortly because of their belief that this application would be much better fought by residents who have stronger feelings against this proposal. With this in mind, if you intend to object to this application and wish to take an active role in Save Oakfield, please contact us on saveoakfield@gmail.com.

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