'Like pinching £100 and giving back £50' - compromise will see half of Oakfield Rec reopened and the other half built on

Half of Oakfield Recreation Ground will be reopened as a park after a long-running saga which saw the land fenced off while developers made repeated attempts to build on it.

Thursday, 6th February 2020, 5:21 pm
Updated Thursday, 6th February 2020, 10:01 pm
The park has been fenced off since 2016.

Developer McCarthy & Stone's application to build a retirement village on the once-cherished Bilton Road park was approved by Rugby's planning committee last night, February 5.

The latest plan included the developer agreeing to hand over half the land to the council so it can once again be enjoyed by the public.

Richard Joy of campaign group Save Oakfield said: "It does feel as though someone has pinched £100 and expects some praise for giving back £50.

How the care home will look from Bilton Road.

"What is welcome though is that we, as residents, will have access to a local open space again in the future, the kids will have a park to play in, and there will be a small five a side sized outdoor football pitch.

"Again, we can't be too thankful - since the main beneficiaries of this is the very organisation that took it away in the first place."

Councillors voted six to five in favour

At last night's planning committee meeting, councillors voted six to five in favour of the development.

This came after a council planning officer's report recommended the plans be approved because having even half the land back as open space would have an overall positive impact on health and wellbeing.

The park has been fenced off since 2016

Oakfield Rec, owned by the Heart of England Co-operative, was previously leased to Rugby Borough Council so it could be used as an open space.

But in June 2016 the Co-op fenced off the site after being turned down for planning permission to build houses on the site.

The site has remained fenced off since then, prompting people to accuse the Co-op of taking out their frustrations on residents - some of them children who were deeply upset when the park was shut.

In December 2018 Rugby's planning committee rejected an application to build a retirement village of 62 apartments and 14 bungalows on the park.

Councillors who voted against that plan did so over worries about loss of open space, impact on trees and impact on the surroundings.

Developer McCarthy & Stone tried to appeal that decision but later withdrew that appeal - instead changing the plan to include a reduction in the size of the proposed apartment building and removal of the proposed 14 bungalows.

The developer also agreed to hand half the land back to Rugby council, while also agreeing to fund new play equipment and goal posts at Oakfield Rec.

And other improvements to Whinfield Rec and Caldecotte Park.

Currently 90 per cent of the site is open space and 10 per cent is a bowling green.

Under the plans, 44 per cent of the land will be taken up by the retirement village, 10 per cent will remain as a bowling green and 46 per cent will be public open space.

Save Oakfield's full statement

Richard Joy of campaign group Save Oakfield said: "I thought it would be a close-run thing and I even thought it would be refused again, even with the planning officer's recommendation, but 6-5 was within the range I thought the result would be.

"In terms of the result, it's not ideal and the intention of the group was succinctly defined in its name.

"However, as time went by, it was obvious that the only way for the saga to end was for Oakfield to be in the hands of Rugby Borough Council.

"With no clear pathway to this end goal, and a reluctance of the council to pursue a Compulsory Purchase Order, a compromise of some sort was undesirable but inevitable.

"While there are some negotiated benefits to the application, the majority of these are not for the residents who have established themselves in this area they call home.

"In an area already severely lacking in open space provision, the ward has now lost 20 per cent of the accessible amenity green space compared to four years ago.

"Bearing in mind that New Bilton was already operating a significant deficit against the adopted standards anyway, yesterday's decision shows that Rugby Borough Council is fairly powerless to defend against speculative development and this should be alarming across the borough.

"They now leave themselves prone to having the precedent set by Oakfield thrown at them in future applications.

"However, I'm fully aware that public opinion on this is split.

"Objection letters this time around were at around a quarter when compared to the previous application - whether that's a reflection of public opinion or simply a result of being ground down after five and a bit years is unclear.

"Either way the caring sharing method of fencing off the field and passing off returning half of it again as some kind of gain, but only should developers get their way, appears to have had the desired result for the landowner.

"It does feel as though someone has pinched £100 and expects some praise for giving back £50. As you can guess, my personal boycott of the Co-op will continue.

"What is welcome though is that we, as residents, will have access to a local open space again in the future, the kids will have a park to play in, and there will be a small five a side sized outdoor football pitch.

"Again, we can't be too thankful, since the main beneficiaries of this is the very organisation that took it away in the first place.

"This relies on McCarthy & Stone progressing with the work as soon as possible, which we trust they will.

"Once the monolith is built, the remaining land is to be passed back to Rugby Borough Council.

"Only from that point will Save Oakfield wind down, and remaining cash from previous fundraising efforts will be donated to local good causes."