Monday, June 19, 2017

Redbridge Council pull Dead Rabbit out of Hat - Oakfield: Now we Wait

Last Wednesday, 14 June, was Oakfield day at the public inquiry into Redbridge Council’s “Local Development Plan”. It was all over by lunchtime but not before Redbridge Council tried to pull a “fast one”.

Just before proceedings started the Council pulled a dead rabbit out of the hat when their QC issued a very late Council document dated 9th June (the previous Friday).

It was a “Statement of Common Ground” between the London Borough of Redbridge (LBR) and the Old Parkonians Association (OPA). It is on the Local Plan website section as document CED023.

In the Statement the OPA are claiming to be the leaseholder. If the Local Plan gets the go-ahead they are also, apparently, asking for a move to be made “within a suitably quick timeframe as our current lease expires in 2024”.

The problem is that the OPA are not the leaseholder. The leases are held by the Ilford County High School Oakfield Trust (ICHSOT). The Trust holds the head lease on the ground that expires on 1st Sept 2024. The Trust also holds a sub-lease on the pavilion and car park area which expires in 2051. The ICHSOT board of trustees were unaware of the Statement.

These corrections were presented to the Inspector and the LBR QC agreed.

Both of the signatories to that (false) statement know full well that Sport England, The FA, ECB, their London and Essex arms, the London Playing Fields Foundation, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, local MPs and thousands of residents and Oakfield users are objecting to the plan to ‘develop’ Oakfield. To try to mislead the Inspector that the other clubs are happy to move to the alternative at Hainault and Forest Road recreation grounds is just not cricket.

Notwithstanding all that, the day went very well. The SOS team belive that on balance, together with previous submissions, our information and arguments might well have swayed the Inspector towards our point of view – but he will not indicate how his thinking is going until further Hearings are concluded. He is, at least, playing with a straight bat.

The two main issues arising during the session were the Green Belt and the loss of existing open space, sports and recreation facilities. Here are some notes from Chris Nutt.

Green Belt

The question was whether or not Oakfield fulfills any of the 5 purposes of the Green Belt. The general principles had been discussed at the Hearing the previous Wednesday and we focused on our local setting. It’s a matter of planning judgement and since one side (Wardell Armstrong) takes the view that none of the tests are met, and we take the view that 3 of the 5 tests are met, the Inspector said he will judge for himself. He has visited Oakfield and will inspect it again before coming to any conclusions.

But even if Oakfield meets the green belt test (or the London Plan Metropolitan Open Land criteria) Oakfield might still be developed if there are ‘exceptional circumstances’. Wardell Armstrong did admit that there hadn’t been any material changes in circumstances since before the War so the argument for changing the green belt boundaries would appear to rest on the Inspector’s judgement as to whether the need for housing growth is an ‘exceptional circumstances’ that justifies building on Oakfield (given the other options).

Replacement of the ground

This question was whether the Hainault and Forest Road grounds could be used to re-site the grass sport and ancillary facilities from Oakfield (except for one cricket pitch and two football pitches that would stay as part of a new school).

There was a rather lengthy debate of ‘yes’ and ‘no’. In strategic terms we argued that the Council’s own Playing Pitch Strategy showed there will be a shortage of pitches by 2030, even if Oakfield and the similar Ford ground (just south of the A12) are retained. If they are lost the situation will be worse still. Sport England also argued helpfully that the planning law requires sports fields to be replaced not just pitches.

On more detailed matters, the question revolved around the quality of the alternative grounds, how practical would it be to fit in all the required pitches, adequacy of car parking space, how to deal with the stones coming to the surface, whether one or two 3G (artificial) pitches could make up the number of games required, the fencing that would affect residents, openness and lack of security and loss of club ‘soul’ if clubs are re-sited to the other end of Forest Road. We had to explain that there is a difference between social and casual games on the one hand and the high level top league standard our clubs need to satisfy. (I for one got the impression that no one on their side of the table knew anything much about organised football or cricket nor what a good club looks like.)

The question of whether the Council could resist allowing mineral extraction from Hainault and Forest Road at some future date was also debated. We made the point that this could not be certain (and thus it would be unsound to plan to move us there) but what is certain is that if Oakfield is lost, it would be lost forever.

There was a brief debate between the lawyers on the covenant – if our 1941 covenant is a ‘positive’ one could this be overturned by the Council. We have legal opinion that it could not. Their QC did not agree.

Now we wait …

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