Friday, 24 May 2019

Villagers criticise plans for new access at beauty spot

RESIDENTS in Benson have criticised a proposal by the parish council to create an access for vehicles to a village beauty spot.

They fear the plans for Bertie West Field, off Horseshoes Lane, would lead to the area being developed with housing and cause traffic and parking problems.

Forty residents signed a petition against the proposal, which included gates to access the site.

The council has denied any intention to build on the land and that it simply requires access in order to maintain it.

The land was bequeathed to the council by Mr West in 1980 on the condition that it was used as a children’s playground.

In a planning statement the council said: “With the current expansion of Benson, all of the council’s recreation areas need to be fully functional, but Bertie West Field has not been properly available for many years, because it has been impossible to maintain with only pedestrian access.

“This project is not intended to bring any form of construction beyond that to form the access, which will allow contractors access to remove the invasive species that have been able to grow unchecked for years.

“The field has become overgrown with blackthorn, elder, brambles and nettles to name but a few of the invading species. The lack of access to the site has prevented a proper maintenance regime being implemented and the new access is of prime importance to allow access for clearing the site and then for ongoing care.

“The evidence of blackthorn is especially worrying for an area where children would play. It is time to regenerate the field for the use of the children, for whom it was bequeathed to the village.”

Residents spoke against the plans at a council meeting on Thursday last week.

Stuart Bell, of Horseshoes Lane, said the application came as a “shock” to them. He’d spoken to two contractors who said vehicular access would not be required to maintain the land and called the gates an “indefensible waste of public money”.

Philippa Lyons, also of Horseshoes Lane, said: “If the application is approved by South Oxfordshire District Council the parish council will always have the option to sell or swap the land for something else.

“You have been made aware that it is not essential to bring vehicles on to the land to manage it properly. Vehicular access means that the threat of development of Bertie West Field will never go away.”

Mike McTeague, of Oxford Road, added: “Your job is to look after the green space that we have very little of. You have got a duty of care to protect it.”

Residents put forward an alternative proposal to form a Friends of Bertie West Memorial Field group with the aim of working with the parish council, and with current and prospective user groups, to ensure the field is managed in line with the benefactor’s wishes.

The group, which has 13 members, said it would consult on what work needs to be done to make the field more attractive, safer and better used for informal play.

A plan would then be drawn up with a brief to enable quotes for the necessary works to be done and agreement sought from the council.

Chairman Bill Pattison said he wanted a covenant in perpetuity so the land could never be developed.

“There’s absolutely no intention to build on that land,” he said. “That should kick into touch any ideas that it will ever be developed.

“There’s no land around Benson to buy, it’s all owned by developers, so there’s no way I would see Bertie West Field developed. I want to see it used to its maximum but I don’t see how it can be done without getting in there and having a good clear up first.”

Councillor Pattison said having the planning application approved would be a “useful backstop” if the residents failed to manage the site.

He explained: “We have got the option of having it done if in 18 months the people who say they can sort this out can’t. If it’s passed it doesn’t mean we have to start building it straight away.

“Ultimately, I’ve been involved with this for almost 25 years, there have been many willing volunteers and it’s still in a bad state.”

Councillor Philip Murray said he favoured giving residents the chance to manage the land on strict terms and delaying the plans.

Councillor Stephen McCann said he also wanted a delay adding: “I really want to see the community take responsibility for something.”

The council agreed to the application going forward with no objections on the casting vote of Councillor Pattison. However, it will allow residents to try and manage the land themselves.

Cllr Pattison told them: “Please don’t think we’re working totally against you. We want to get that field sorted out in the long-term for everyone to enjoy.”

The district council will make the final decision by May 21.

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