Public reject plans for access road to bulldoze part of play park – Barnstaple

“If a secondary access is not provided, the outline consent will not be implementable until such time as the wider allocation is developed, simply because there will be no access. That will have an impact on the council’s ability to re-establish a five year housing land supply.”

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com 

Only one of the near-600 people who responded to a consultation over plans that could see part of a play park in Barnstaple used to provide a second access road to a new housing development were in favour of such a move.

North Devon Council own the freehold of the land at Westacott, but developers Progress Land had approached the council for permission to purchase some of the land to access their site of an approved in outline urban extension of 149 homes at Westacott, with a price agreed.

A small section of the park would be used to put in a new access road, which would take away just over 10 per cent of the existing area of the park, and then would be replaced with a bigger play area including a brand new multi-use games area, upgraded play equipment and an improved playing pitch.

Councillors had previously agreed to consult the public over the scheme, and North Devon Council’s strategy and resources committee, when they meet next Monday, will be asked to make a decision over whether or not to proceed with the disposal of the land.

But the report to the meeting outlines that of the 579 responses that the council had, 578 of them were opposed to the move, with only one in favour.

Although 84 per cent of the responses were responses to a standardised community survey created by a local councillor, the report says that ‘there is clearly significant opposition to a disposal’, although reminds members they should however consider the reasons for opposition put forward and not simply consider the overall numbers.

The report of Jon Triggs, head of resources, adds: “The reasons for objection include but not limited to overlooking the park, creating a rat run, pollution, contradiction to the council’s environmental policy, detrimental to property sale values, danger to children walking to school, noise of traffic, loss of green space, air pollution and destruction of wildlife habitat.

“There was one email of support stating the existing park is tired and limited, and that gaining an improved area, MUGA and large space overall is a major positive.

“Many of the issues raised by the responses are issues that were taken into account both as part of the process for allocating the site and identifying this route as a potential secondary access, and also dealt with as part of the decision to grant outline consent with a secondary route through the open space.

“There is clearly significant opposition to a disposal, but members should however consider the reasons for opposition put forward and not simply consider the overall numbers.”

The developer submitted their reserved matters application for the scheme, which would see 134 homes built on the adjacent site, but the report says that if the secondary access across the park is not allowed, then it would almost result in the scheme not coming forward until Barwood Land’s masterplan to transform a nearby 59-hectare site into a ‘new gateway to Barnstaple’, with around 800 new homes, was developed.

Mr Triggs added: “The policies in the Local Plan envisaged that there might be other options for provision for secondary access and the developers have looked to see if they could secure an alternative access to their site by utilising the adjacent industrial estate at Castle Park Road, however this has proved to be unsuccessful to date.

“This alternative access involves private land owners also has other constraints, not least the fact that it would pass through a flood zone and therefore subject to a sequential test and would also be using roads that are unsuitable.”

The Local Plan states that the purpose of the secondary access is to improve links between Whiddon Valley and the Link Road and alleviate congestion at the Rose Lane roundabout, and Mr Triggs added: “When taking the decision, members must therefore consider the impact on the development and on the wider strategic extension, in particular on the sustainability of that development if the links to the town centre cannot be created and on the delivery of the council’s own adopted strategic policies.

“If a secondary access is not provided, the outline consent will not be implementable until such time as the wider allocation is developed, simply because there will be no access. That will have an impact on the council’s ability to re-establish a five year housing land supply.”

When the consultation was launched, deader of North Devon Council, Cllr David Worden, said: “We know the issue is controversial but we need to make sure that everyone understands fully what is being proposed and lets us know what they think before we make any decisions.”

A decision will be made at the strategy and resources committee meeting on Monday, July 5, with no recommendation made by the officers as to whether to proceed with the proposed disposal of the land.

Those opposed to the scheme made their feelings known at a gathering at the park on Wednesday, June 30 when Devon Live and the BBC spoke to anxious residents.

Among them were Marcella Priest, who says this plan is not the first time the park has come under threat.

“Our message to councillors is that we do not want a road through this park,” she said.

“It’s the heart of the community and everybody uses it from foster carers, parents, babies, joggers and children playing football. Children at Orchard Vale Primary School use this park, factory workers use it to take a break during the daytime.”

She explained that they enjoyed a ‘good size’ football pitch and to move the goalposts and downsize it would be ‘a disgrace’.

She continued: “Why should we have to cross another road or have it on a hill?

“There are also people on mobility scooters and elderly people as well. They don’t want to have to walk up a hill either. Why should we have to walk further to get to another park?.

“I’ve been here 33 years, I’ve had four and I’m a foster carer; this park means a lot to me.”

She said that the council had previously promised not to sell the land and now North Devon had ‘picked on the wrong community.’

“The proposal to sell the land is back on the table and we’re cheesed off with it. It has been going on for many years, and we just want some peace.

“We’re not putting up with it anymore. They have got an offer of money on their table, but we’ve got love of our community on our table. Hopefully, they will show us that they are not all about money and greed.”

Another resident, Hillary Brooke added: “One of the problems we have is North Devon Council are not a highways authority, and in fact, Devon County Council’s highways authority have come up with alternate routes other than a road through the park.

“The district is still sticking to their totally flawed plans.

“If approved it is going to create pollution, which is excessive to say the least. It will particularly affect children and in effect, poison them.”

Marie Moore, a former Landkey councillor said to ‘trash’ the park with a road would not honour those who fought for a recreational ground to be located at Westacott in the first place.

“Many years ago, before the park was even a park and was just grassland, a councillor and former teacher, Dave Butt, who’s no longer with us and sadly passed away two years ago helped me as a Landkey councillor get what we’ve got today,” she said.

“Trashing his memory is not on the books. I think it’s a shame that they want to do this and put a road through. I think it’s just diabolical.”

She said that her children and grandchildren treasured the facility.

“My kids rode their bikes around here and played on the equipment, so to do what they want to do by putting the road through makes me very angry.

“This is a hub. It’s the only green space we’ve got. Working at school we bring our children here. We do a toddle and sports days here and picnics in the sunshine.

“These little ones aren’t going to be able to walk all the way over to where they want to put a new park. To make children do that isn’t appropriate when we’ve got a perfectly good space already.”

North Devon and County Council members representing Barnstaple who do not sit on the Strategy and Resources Committee, also attended to show their support.

Caroline Leaver, a district council member and Devon County Council representative said that during the election campaign in May it became ‘hugely clear’ that the community needed somebody to stand up for them.

“As a county councillor, I’m in a very good position to do that,” she said.

“I think that there is concern that on the one hand, we’ve got a Local Plan which was approved back in 2018. We have an outline planning application and we have to asses every application on its merits, but at the same time, we have huge public feeling against this.

“Some of the reasons for the allocation of this land has been to do with highways. I have been in touch with the highways authority officers who tell me that it’s not necessary to have a road through here.

“I think on North Devon Council, there is a feeling that it is difficult that after years of funding cuts from central government, we are in a really difficult financial place. For some, I think money on the table will matter more. For me, nothing is more important than the communities we serve.

“It is a difficult decision that the council has got ahead of it, but there’s no doubt in my mind that there has never been more clear results from a community consultation than this one.

“If approved, it will send a message that money counts more than people. That would be an absolute travesty for people who have been fighting for this for years.

“It would also send a message that the government needs to really wake up and understand that community matters and the way in which they underfund, particularly rural councils, puts a lot of pressure onto local authorities.”

Councillor Nichola Topham added: “The mood against these plans is overwhelming.

“The vast majority of people here today and the amount of respondents to the public survey and the separate survey that was done have spoken. They have voiced the fact that they don’t want to sell the park and have a road through it.

“I think as elected members, we need to remember the reason why we’ve been elected.

“It’s not our ward, but the ethos is still the same. We’re we’ve been elected by the people of North Devon to represent their views.”

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