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Meeting for controversial Werrington Field plan next week

A public meeting about the controversial plan to fence off part of a Werrington field will be held next week following a report saying the initial plan should not have gone ahead in the first place.
Werrington Fields
Fox covert side at Werrington Fields

The long-running saga will be discussed at Ken Stimpson Community School next Monday, September 20.

The school wants to fence off part of the land, owned by Peterborough City Council, because it has safeguarding concerns, and received planning permission in March 2020.

But many residents feel they were not consulted fully - and a campaign began to try to overturn the decision and keep the field open to everyone.

Since then the area of the field to be closed off and the height of the fence have both been changed, but many of those behind the Save Werrington Fields group are still challenging the decision,. 

They have pledged to fight the revised proposals of moving the fenced area to the other side of the field, adjacent to Foxcovert Road and Ainsdale Drive, and increasing the fenced area from the size of two-and-a-half football pitches to four.

The council commissioned a report into the field in which it listed several incidents which had occurred over the years, including disruption to a sports day by drunken youths, and young adults riding mopeds over the playing fields.

One of the most contentious aspects of the use of the field was the discovery of a legal document saying that it had to be retained as public space with available access - confirmed in legal advice to the council later, although unlikely to be enforceable.

And in a conclusion to the report it appears the initial plan at 'Area A' should never have been considered as it is held by the council as public open space under "a statutory trust for the benefit of the public". 

The report said: "Whilst it is permissible to install fencing around public open space, in the case of Werrington Fields, independent legal advice indicates that doing so for the purpose of safeguarding pupils at Ken Stimpson Community School would likely be a breach of that statutory trust. 

"Legal counsel’s advice also indicated that this would be the case even if the gates to the school were left unlocked at all times, and the public had unrestricted access to the site whenever they wished. If the council wished to proceed to enclose Area A it would need to go through a formal statutory process to appropriate the land.

"The council has a statutory right to appropriate open space land that it owns to an alternative use. The formal process of appropriation would require the council to advertise its intention to change the use of the land and consider any objections. Appropriation of the land must also be on the basis that the land is no longer required for the purposes for which it is held.

"Any attempts by the council at appropriation would be likely generate significant public opposition in light of the current objections and, moreover, any legal challenge to appropriation of this area was likely to succeed.

"The council had been wrong to proceed with its proposals to erect a fence around Area A as it was a breach of the statutory trust on which the land is held for the benefit of the public."

Residents have also questioned the data justifying the safeguarding concerns, and described the conclusions of the report as "shocking".

Save Werrington Fields member Jenna Maryniak said: “It really is a kick in the teeth for the many people who use this field and have objected to it being fenced. 

"The council previously has tried to justify the need for a fence by citing statistics for all crime in the whole of Peterborough, and we still have not seen any risk assessment or reports of safeguarding incidents that justify this drastic action which fences out locals and will totally spoil this much-needed open space. 

"While we wholeheartedly believe that the students of Ken Stimpson should be able to use the field safely, the evidence shows that the risk to students has been vastly over-emphasised. The fields have been safely shared between school and community for 40 years, and other methods could be used to prevent potential problems but have not even been considered."

The campaign group is ready to make a further legal challenge to the council’s latest plans, as they believe that the whole fields are subject to the protection of the Public Open Spaces Act, and are not ‘school land’ as the council has tried to suggest in its report. 

You can register your place at the meeting, which takes place from 6.30-8.30pm, here or follow it on the council's YouTube channel.