I wanted to write a post to lay out the details of what has been going on with the proposal to install a play area in the Green at the centre of the village.
How the green was created
First of all, a bit of history. In 2001, the Countryside Agency started a project called Doorstep Greenshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doorstep_Greens. The aim was to create village greens in towns and villages throughout the country that were a centre point for village activity and exercise. They were to be protected spaces that would have their future management controlled by a charitable trust.
The area we now know as Oxborough Village Green was wholly owned by Oxborough Farms Ltd., which is a local farm owned by the now Parish Councillor Ian Monson. A public meeting of the Parish Council was held on 20th November 2002 to discuss the matterhttps://oxborough.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Oxborough-doorstep-green-pubic-meeting.pdf
As part of this meeting, the chair read out an extract from a letter from the land owner, Ian Monson, regarding the only conditions of the sale.
The only conditions of sale…would be that this land cannot be re-sold out of public ownership for any form of building or development and must be maintained as a village green for the use and recreation of the village at large.Ian Monson, November 2002https://oxborough.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Oxborough-doorstep-green-pubic-meeting.pdf
Also in that meeting, it was suggested that a discussion could be had as to the siting of any play equipment.
There was then a public consultation to gain the opinion of the villagers. One question was about whether the villagers would like to see a “children’s recreation area”. 69% of respondants said yeshttps://oxborough.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Puclic-consultation.pdf.
There were many bumps along the way, as there always will be with projects like this, for example, the owners wanting to increase the valuation of the area for salehttps://oxborough.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/ODGAG-4-may-2004.pdf. It could have been that this reason of funding was why the play equipment was not considered at this stage. Despite these bumps, the sale went through and the Parish Council became the owners of Oxborough Village Green, a doorstep green in our village.
How the play area was conceived
At a meeting of Oxborough Parish Council on 17 July 2019, there was the first discussion of whether it would be appropriate for Oxborough to have a play area constructed on the green.https://oxborough.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/OPC-17-July-2019.pdf
Councillor Paul Gilluley had looked into suitable equipment, and provided pictures for the other councillors to see of examples he had in mind. Councillor Ian Monson noted that the PC had looked at this possibility for decades, adding that something would be good in the corner of the green. There was a vote on a motion for Cllr Gilluley to provide a proposal for a form of play area on the village green which was brought by the Chair, Councillor David Hotchkin and seconded by Cllr Monson. All councillors voted in favour of the motion.
At the next meeting of Oxborough Parish council on 18th September 2019, there was an extensive discussion with Councillors and villagers to get a sense of what everyone thinks of having a play area on the green. It was a very positive reaction, both from Councillors and villagers. Councillor Paul Gilluley proposed the outlined form of play area on the green, which was seconded by Cllr Monson. All councilors were in favour, so the proposal was passed.https://oxborough.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/OPC-18-September-2019.pdf
In the new year, there was the next Oxborough Parish Council meeting on 15th January 2020. Once again, the play area was discussed, and once again it was positive. Councillor Hotchkin informed the council that he had asked Mr.Jamie Tuckwell to consider installing a metal footgate on the corner opposite the pub, and that Mr. Tuckwell had offered to do this free of charge. Councillor Monson expressed his enthusiasm, adding that it might be an idea to install a kissing gate, to slow down any children leaving the green and returning to the pub garden. Councillor Monson thought it would be very beneficial to the village and might encourage families with children into the village.https://oxborough.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/OPC-15-January-2020.pdf
The next meeting of Oxborough Parish Council was on 18th March 2020, where there was just a brief dicussion of the play area, mostly about budget funding.https://oxborough.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/OPC-18-March-2020.pdf
The next Parish Council meeting was held on 20th July 2020 in the North Aisle of the Church due to the renovations in the Village Hall and because of COVID 19 restrictions. There was no discussion of the play area at that meeting.
What will the play area be?
The play area proposed will house a number of items comprising the original 5-piece balancing trim trail (with long life steel ground anchors), safety surfacing, a monkey run, safegrass matting in certain locations, a 2-position single bay swing (nest swing), 3 x park benches (to be sited in the current locations) consisting of weather resistant cast aluminium ends and brown enviropol slats, fencing and gates (2 x vehicular and 1x pedestrian).https://oxborough.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/OPC-15-January-2020.pdf
I personally feel it would be a great addition to our village. A parish council meeting said that there were 20 children in this village, but since then, more have moved in. For a village as small as ours, it’s great to have a safe place for so many children. We owe it to them, and to future generations of families in this village, to provide a much needed village resource.
Why has the project stalled?
During the spring and summer, discussions were going on behind the scenes which came to light in the meeting of Oxborough Parish Council on 14th October 2020.https://oxborough.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/OPC-14th-October-2020.pdf
The meeting heard that the Parish Council had received a letter from Ian Monson indicating that he had changed his mind on the siting the playground on the village green.https://oxborough.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/OPC-14th-October-2020.pdf This was followed up by a letter from a solicitor acting on behalf of Oxbrough Farms Ltd instructing the council to abandon the project, as they said it contravened covenant 4.1.2 of the original deed for the sale of the land to the parish council.
So at first glance it seems that it is not possible to have a playground, but it is not quite clear what the term ‘structure’ means, and there is no definition of that in the deed.
And in a later covenant, it suggests that changes can be made to the deed.
This seems to suggest that should a change be made, it can be done via a certificate signed by, or on behalf of Oxborough Farms Ltd.
Concillor Monson was asked at the Parish Council Meeting on 16 December 2020 that, in considering this option, would there be a chance of a compromise, he responded that
…it was in the long-term interests of the village to keep the green clear and protected forever.Councillor Monson, 16 December 2020 https://oxborough.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/OPC-16-December-2020.pdf
But is this really the case? The majority of villagers want a play area, the majority of representatives, the Parish Council, want a play area, Natural EnglandNatural England have replaced the Countryside Agency that were originally part of the discussions to create the doorstep green in our village have stated that they are
…content with your proposal on the basis that it sees no implications for the grant obligations.Hugh James Solicitors on behlaf of Natural England https://oxborough.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/OPC-16-December-2020.pdf
What happens now?
It is a real shame that three Parish Councillors have resigned recently. All three were very involved in the creation of this play area so it’s unfortunate they weren’t able to see it through to completion.
I have spoken to a former Beachamwell Village hall committee member who was instrumental in the creation of the play area in their village. At the time, there were only 3 children in their village, but they thought it would be a good addition to the village. And it has been, it is well used and well liked by all villagers. People travel from other villages to use it and when the pub is open, children who are visiting the pub use it, and it has been a vey positive addition to the village. In Oxborough, we have more children living here, and because of our location and the amenities, we have more chidren visiting.
There has been discussion of a different location for the play area. I personally feel that would not be a viable option. If it was to be behind the village hall, it will not be seen or known about well enough to be used to the extent it should be. If it was in the area of the Oxburgh Hall car park, it would not be as easily accessible to villagers, it would only really be a benefit to the visitors to the hall.
When people visit this village, they visit the green, they walk their dogs there, their children play games there, they eat their picnics there. Children who visit the pub are right next to the green, if it was there, they would be able to use it, but not if it was anywhere else. Is it worth us having a play area if it is to be in a location that is not really suitable.
If you feel you want to contribute and have your voice heard, there will be a Parish Council meeting on Wednesday 27th via Zoom. Please do make the the councillors aware of your opinion, every villager’s voice matters.
I do hope the Parish Council and Oxborough Farms can come to a reasonable compromise to provide what I believe will be a real benefit to the families in our village, and the families who visit.