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Werrington Fields fence: Planning permission needed - and an email to Michael Gove

The Save Werrington Fields pressure group has written to Michael Gove with its concerns about the controversial 'fencing-off' of part of a field.
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Photo: Terry Harris

And in an email sent to the group Peterborough City Council, which owns the field, states it will now have to seek planning permission for a change of use to educational purposes, to allow the fence to be constructed.

The SWF group has long contended that the field has certain protections in place, which forced a change of plans.

And it still believes there is little justification for the installation of the fence at a cost of at least £74,000, with the council recently putting a stop to all spending bar essential services but continuing with this work because it relates to safeguarding.

The area to be fenced off is different to that originally intended, after a review found a first plan was  a breach of the statutory trust on which the land is held for the benefit of the public. The new area will be double the size of the original plan.

So with Werrington Leisure Centre due to close next week, January could be a crunch time for the decision for the north of Peterborough.

It's the latest news in a long-running saga dating back to November 2019, when the council applied for the fence for safeguarding reasons after concerns were raised by the nearby Ken Stimpson Community School concerning several apparent incidents.

The evidence on which these concerns were raised has been refuted by campaigners, who have staged protests on the field and had their say in a fractious public meeting back in September.

Prior to Christmas they wrote to outgoing PCC CEO Gillian Beasley to thank her for listening to them over the past two years, but reiterated their claim that the need for the fence is 'unevidenced'.

They also recieved an email from Hazel Belchamber, Assistant Director: Education Capital & Place Planning, on the latest status of the field, which said: "We have received and reviewed the further legal advice which I advised you we were seeking.  

"This has led us to conclude that the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services Cllr Lynne Ayres, should recommend in her Cabinet Member Decision Notice that the Council should seek planning permission for a material change of use of that part of Werrington fields which would be enclosed by the fence. "

It adds that the notice could be subject to a call-in, which could then lead to another public meeting.

For the campaigners it  represents yet another concession that they have been right in their claims.

That has prompted a letter to Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Michael Gove, which has highlighted a number of concerns relating to cost, "incompetence" and legal issues.

The email from Tony Forster on behalf of the group says: "At a time of huge financial challenge, I am outraged that this unnecessary fence is being prioritized.  The tenders for the previous proposed fence – around a far smaller area – were £74,000 (and materials costs have rocketed since then). 

"The council has already spent significant sums on this – my FoI request identifies £24k admitted up until October: since then, they have sought external legal advice from a QC, in order to find out if they need planning permission. Staff time and contracted consultants must significantly increase the cost already incurred.  The proposed planning process will also increase the costs substantially.

"PCC has shown gross incompetence and disregard for public money throughout this saga.

"Our own SWF group has spent nothing on legal support so far but has still been able to point out the following errors, which the council has now accepted:

  • The original plan was illegal as the area is protected by covenant
  • The revised plan to proceed on a different area of the field under permitted development was also illegal. 
  • PCC is proposing to spend further huge sums on a school which will no longer be its responsibility in four months.

" I cannot see how this is justified in its present financial situation.  

"I believe this saga shows that the council is wilfully ignoring the financial situation it faces in proceeding with these unjustified and legally dubious proposals,  which aim to annex land that the community has used for forty years."