Oakfields campaigners hit out at plan to build on playing fields during final meeting with inspector
PUBLISHED: 16:00 14 June 2017
Activists who have spent years battling against Redbridge Council’s plans to build 850 homes on Oakfields finally got the chance to put their concerns to a planning inspector at a meeting today.
The 21 football pitches and nine cricket squares in Fencepiece Road, Barkingside, were one of the green belt spots earmarked as a site for development by the council’s Local Plan.
But at today’s meeting, held by the planning inspectorate at City Gates Pavilion in Ilford, community members made representations against the plan to planning inspector David Smith.
Paul Scott, of Neighbourhoods of Ilford South Engage, accused the council of going against its own policy.
He said: “It’s clear that it certainly meets the green belt criteria – it’s not derelict land is it?
“The playing fields are very much in use by the community and are an integral part of the area.”
Concerns were also raised that any development would effectively merge the communities of Hainault and Barkingside.
And Mr Smith said that he was aware of an “inconsistency of legislation” in Redbridge Council’s approach to the green belt – referring to a sudden change in heart over Oakfields green belt status between reviews in 2010 and 2016.
Dr Chris Nutt, of community group Barkingside 21, also argued that paving over Oakfields would result in less sporting talent emerging from the borough.
He said: “Anybody anywhere in Redbridge looking to play on the highest quality grounds will be looking to Oakfields because council run pitches across the borough are of a much poorer quality.”
Howard Berlin, of the Save Oakfield Society, agreed: “Oakfields exemplifies how brilliant Redbridge’s green belt is.
“Here we have the best sporting facilities and the best playing fields and it is an example of green belt at its very best.”
However, Mark Furnish, representing Sport England, did concede that the number of pitches lost at Oakfields could be recreated, in terms of quantity, elsewhere in the borough.
But the council’s legal team could not say whether or not parking expansions at the proposed new sites had been taken into account alongside the amount of space available for new pitches in other locations.
In terms of cost, Dr Nutt estimated any new pitches would cost up to 50pc more to maintain as volunteers who were attached to the Oakfields site fell away and the council was forced to take up more responsibility.
But Douglas Edwards QC, speaking on behalf of the council, revealed part of any new site would be handed over to the Old Parkonians, who currently maintain Oakfields, and that such a maintenance arrangement would be expected to continue.
Mr Edwards also revealed that any developers who built homes on the site would be expected to fund at least part of the creation and maintenance of new sports facilities.
Inspector David Smith is due to hold the last Local Plan hearing on Friday and will then conduct secondary visits to sites before announcing his decision in July.