Victory for campaigners fighting to save Oakfields Playing Fields

PUBLISHED: 17:07 15 September 2017 | UPDATED: 17:26 15 September 2017

Save Oakfields campaigners. Picture: Keith Prince

Save Oakfields campaigners. Picture: Keith Prince

Keith Prince

The battle to save the popular pitches at Oakfields Playing Fields has drawn to an end as planning inspectors sided with campaigners.

Oakfields playing fields. Picture: Ellie Hoskins Oakfields playing fields. Picture: Ellie Hoskins

The 21 football pitches and nine cricket squares in Fencepiece Road, Barkingside, was one of the green belt spots earmarked as a site for development by the council’s Local Plan.

Redbridge Council had wanted to build 850 homes on the green belt land but a passionate campaign has been fought by residents, councillors, Ilford North MP Wes Streeting and sports organisations against the proposals for the last few years.

In June, community members made official representations against the plan to planning inspector David Smith in the hope that he would curtail the plans.

And last night, council leader Jas Athwal confirmed that plans to built on the popular pitches had been dropped.

Howard Berlin of the Save Oakfields campaign Howard Berlin of the Save Oakfields campaign

Jubilant campaigners have now shared their joy with the Recorder, including Ilford North MP Wes Streeting.

He said: “I’m so pleased for Oakfield campaigners who’ve mounted one of the most professional and effective campaigns I have ever seen.

“With patience, persistence and determination they put forward a well-argued and well-evidenced case to save a much-loved community space.

“They deserve all of the credit for this outcome.

Council leader Jas Athwal. Picture: Paul Bennett, Council leader Jas Athwal. Picture: Paul Bennett,

“I am also relieved that the Local Plan will now go ahead without the inclusion of the proposed Oakfield development.

“Labour’s commitment to build new homes and regenerate our town centres is just what this borough needs after years of Tory inaction and neglect.”

Howard Berlin, of the Save Oakfield Society, said the playing fields exemplified the best of the borough’s greenbelt.

He said: “When Redbridge Labour Council submitted Oakfield to the Planning Inspector that decision was fundamentally flawed.

“The Council used so called “green belt experts” to try and declassify the Green Belt status and the planning inspector has seen through their tactics and found that they were unsound and have no legal basis.

“This is why the leader of Redbridge Council conceded defeat last night.

“We should also remember that our administration in the original consultation counted 7,000 objections to their Oakfield development plans as only two objections.”

Mr Berlin added thanks to all the sports organisations that backed the campaign, including Sport England, the Football Association and the England and Wales Cricket Board.

He added: “This is a great victory not just for residents of Fairlop but for all residents in Redbridge. Our green belt is precious”.

When the news was announced at Redbridge Town Hall last night, Cllr Athwal thanked campaigners for their dedication.

He said: “We did the right thing by putting all options on the table and allowing the inspector to decide.

“We are clear that delivering good growth and regeneration across the borough depends on continual engagement and dialogue with local communities and groups and we hope that groups like Save Oakfield and Ilford Noise will continue to engage.

“Thank you to all residents and campaigners involved, and we look forward to making further considerations on the inspector’s recommendations before the final decisions from the inspector on our Local Plan.”

Conservative group Leader Cllr Paul Canal hailed the victory of local campaigners against Redbridge Council’s plans to build on Oakfield .

He said: “In cricketing terms this was a giant killing of the highest order, akin to Old Parkonians beating Essex by an innings and a hundred runs

“Labour’s decision to press ahead with Oakfield’s destruction was flawed from the start, an act of unprecedented civic vandalism “ he said.

“Despite overwhelming evidence and opposition, Labour have ploughed on with this deeply flawed scheme.

Thousands of pounds of tax payers money has been wasted, hundreds of hours of officer’s time, without counting the distress and cost to the hero campaigners.”

“The council’s reputation for competence lies in tatters.

“The credit for the council’s defeat must rest with the brilliant campaigners, led by Chris Nutt, Howard Berlin and Warren Litkin. I salute them. ”

Cllr Canal said Redbridge Council should now extend the lease at the site “as a matter of urgency.”

He added: “We must protect our green belt and sporting legacy for future generations.“

Longstanding supporter of the campaign Keith Prince, London Assembly member for Redbridge, added his voice to the chorus of celebration.

He said: “This wonderful decision is a victory for the Save Oakfield Society and many other local campaigners, who worked tirelessly, protect Oakfield and oppose the council’s plans. “It was a privilege to support the campaign to save this precious piece of green belt land from development.

“Redbridge Council’s plans for Oakfield have been thoroughly rejected by the inspector and hopefully this will be the final nail in the coffin.

“It is a shame that such plans were ever considered, against the wishes of so many local residents.”

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