There is a massive dichotemy emerging that could define local politics for some time to come. There is a requirement from central government to provide housing that overlays the interests of local authorities in preserving green spaces and recreational areas.
In Blaby District there is a requirement to provide an assessment of Council owned land where there might be an opportunity to provide possible sites for development of affordable and social housing.
One such assessment activity triggered Enderby residents after contractors were observed taking soil samples and conducting other monitoring activities on the Southey Park recreational ground (alternatively known as ‘Wimpey Park’ named after the developer of the surrounding estate).
Having seen the appropriation of similar green areas by commercial developers both locally and nationally, it was natural that the sampling activity observed on the Southey recreational ground gave rise to concerns that development was planned for the space.
There is, in fact, no requirement for a local authority to publicise such preliminary activities on land it owns especially as no formal planning application has been made.
However, the pressure on Blaby District Council (BDC) to produce its ‘quota’ of housing and the appetite of East Midlands Homes (EMH) to develop said housing in partnership with BDC creates the recipe for a perfect storm between the local authority and residents. Residents are well aware of other instances locally where recreational land has been lost to housing development.
EMH is a descendent of Three Oaks Homes who originally took over the ‘council house’ stock of Blaby District Council when the stock transfer enabled Three Oaks to benefit from millions of pounds in government funding to vastly improve the condition of the housing stock with double glazing, new bathrooms and other improvements to rejuvenate the housing stock. The transfer was democratically approved by a poll of the existing Council tenants and senior Council Cabinet members are representatives on East Midlands Housing Group (formerly Three Oaks Homes Housing Board).1
The Three Oaks Homes stock transfer operation was subsumed into the EMH group in 2008 and since that time EMH has continued to develop into a major East Midlands player both in the social housing arena and also in home sales after a 2010 branding of its home sales operation as ‘Hello homes’ and starting selling this service to other providers.
EMH work closely with a good number of local authorities in the East Midlands and have a current turnover of £122.6m, and assets of £902m.
Lined up against this large corporate alliance – in David and Goliath fashion – is the Wimpey Action Group, a hastily formed group of residents and park users concerned about the future of a prized local asset. Members of the group have the overt backing of Liberal Democrat Cllr. Paul Hartshorne who has previously spoken out about the sale of recreation land.
They also took to local media to highlight the issue with an article published in the Leicester Mercury2 in which group member Sandra Stevens said: “The park is a much loved and valued open space in our village.”
Ms.Stevens went on to say “It is always in use by children playing and young people meeting their friends, friends meeting up and socialising, people of all ages playing or watching sport, walkers and dog walkers, fitness groups and families gathering for picnics. It is a green oasis in the middle of our village with some woodland, trees and wildlife including bats.”
Inferring some obfuscation about plans for the land Ms. Stevens said “After many enquiries with Blaby District Council and various councillors, eventually [they] issued a statement confirming they were assessing the viability for part of the park to be disposed of for Housing. “Enderby is a large village so to lose a large part of the park will have a huge impact”.
At a recent Parish Council meeting residents confronted parish councillors regarding the rumours surrounding the park and were told that whilst parish councillors were aware that consideration was being given to a development on part of the park they couldn’t, as a Council, legally comment on something which had not been presented to the Council formerly as a planning application. However, there was little doubt that individually councillors were not in favour of such a development on the park.
The group say that they have been working long hours putting together an action plan with the aim to prevent any building development – of any size – on Wimpey Park. They have an enthusiastic working party and over 500 members all working to the same end.
The group held their first formal meeting after which they published minutes outlining a number of actions going forward.
- Looking into the Blaby District Council planning policy.
- Contacting MP Alberto Costa to gauge his opinion.
- Considering taking the views of the 39 district councillors on their approval process and decisions on the Best Value for BDC, ascertaining to the Wimpey Park.
- Launching posters, leaflets drops and contacting local newspapers.
- Seek support, going forward, to help with printing costs. The group asks are there any businesses/shops/pubs that could see to doing this? £35 will give them 1000 copies, printed and delivered. The group estimate they need about 7000 copies to cover Enderby and The Pastures. This can be shared between the businesses and the group think that it is an achievable target.
The group say they are determined not to ‘lose the Park or any part of it’. They also promise to keep supporters informed at every stage.
The groups Facebook page is viewable here.
So the scene is set for a possible battle. A ‘possibility’ only because no official planning application has been put forward. If the soil sampling exercise reveals the land to be suitable then an application for a number of dwellings may be made. That result is in doubt in some quarters amid talk of the land being previously a tip for building detritus from nearby development.
Thus far, the official response from the District Council about the possible sale of the asset is:
“The consideration of Southey Close Park is in the very early stages.
“At the moment only site surveys and monitoring are taking place to assess the site, and no decisions have been made as to whether this site will be disposed of [when a council sells its assets, such as land or buildings].
“Whilst the site may allow for some of the area to be developed, the play area and football pitch on the park would be retained and improved if any development was to take place.
“Blaby District Council has a priority and requirement to deliver affordable housing, and as a result we need to consider areas of Council owned land where there might be an opportunity to provide possible sites for development of affordable housing.
“No disposal will take place without a decision being taken by Blaby District Council Members at a Full Council meeting, and must then go through the full planning process to gain permission for any development to take place.”
This issue is certain to dominate the local political scene for some time and the community in Enderby is gearing up to defend what it describes as its green oasis in the middle of the village. Watch this space.