I’ve written to the PC asking them to find a safe configuration for the play equipment as close as possible to their chosen site on the path through the Green. I have several concerns about the site proposed by Oxborough Farms Limited – including, of course, its proximity to my house.
Simon Willies, Chairman, Oxborough PC
Play equipment for the Village Green
I am in favour of having the Play Equipment on the Green.
The location chosen by the PC is an attractive choice with the advantages of the paved path, good separation from houses and a strong hedge with wire fencing. It also has rather poor grass which would not be missed. However the site must be safe for our families and I’m pleased to hear that the equipment manufacturers have offered to work with the PC to modify the layout, so the location is substantially unaltered but safe from any potential tree hazard.
In this context it seems rather disappointing that Oxborough Farms Limited (OFL) has, at this late stage, sought to impose a completely different location for the play equipment and new ‘conditions’. I understand that our Clerk is in the process of agreeing new deadlines for the grants so the PC doesn’t have to rush this matter through.
Looking at the wording of the transfer and the attached Plan 2, the PC appears not to need the approval of OFL to install the play equipment. Under clause 4.1.3, the restriction is, ‘not to develop or alter the property other than in accordance with Plan 2’. So it’s ok if it’s on the plan.
At the bottom of the plan it actually says, ‘Wider area of path glade management could be used for play structures if these are desired in future’. The only condition for the equipment is that it is desired (and given all the effort by the PC and support from the village that’s certainly true). This wording is cut off onto the small corner on the plan attached to OFL’s letter and not really legible, but it can easily be read on the complete plan now on the village website. The limitations in clause 4.1.2 are separate from 4.1.3 so don’t affect it.
Also, Plan 2 says that the Oxborough Doorstep Green Action Group is ‘to agree the final specifications and layout’. There is no time limit. So this group could be briefly reconstituted to agree the location of the equipment without needing permission.
Clause 4.1.2 says, ‘not to construct any building or structure…’ without approval by OFL but that, ‘such approval [is] not to be unreasonably withheld.’ As Cllr Monson is the sole director of OFL he makes all the decisions, and he has repeatedly supported and voted for the play equipment at the PC, and agreed that the written minutes are correct – so his approval is in writing and without any conditions. It seems hard to say that it’s reasonable to take a completely different view now and there’s nothing to allow permission to be withdrawn once given. Also, reasonableness is considered in terms of timing, and at this late stage it’s hard to accept it’s reasonable to impose new conditions on the PC and village.
The solicitor may well have given the opinion without noticing the wording on Plan 2 and without knowing that the equipment and location has been repeatedly approved by Cllr Monson in writing. There seems to be concern in the village that OFL/Cllr Monson is acting in a rather high handed way so rather than accepting and acting on the opinion paid for by OFL might it be prudent for the PC to obtain its own independent advice?
It’s not clear why OFL came up with its proposed location and there is a discrepancy between the position drawn on the plan and what Cllr Monson said at the PC meeting which is confusing. However there are usually three key considerations for deciding the location – safety, accessibility and separation.
There’s a real danger of children running across the road from the pub. Cars shoot round that corner without checking their speed and others park on the verges causing visibility problems. Concern about the danger to pedestrians on that corner has been raised with, and acknowledged by, the PC many times. Prior knowledge of repeated safety concerns may be a reason to locate elsewhere. Also it could be an issue in terms of the RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) risk assessment for the PC to choose to put the play equipment anywhere near the pub corner.
The play equipment should be located on a path. The PC has to make reasonable provision for accessibility for those with disabilities (including wheelchair users) under the Equality Act. Grant awarding bodies are particularly keen on this facility. It is also extremely difficult to push a two year old sibling in a buggy across a wet field!
The Fields in Trust organisation provides guidance for siting play equipment, dependent on the target age range and amount of equipment – the higher the age range and the greater the amount of equipment, the further it should be from houses. The target age range for the Green was stated as 4 – 16 years (PC minutes 20 November 2019) and there are six items, mostly lower but none higher than 4m.
Given the target age range, the play equipment cannot be classified as a ‘LEAP’ (ages 4-8) and therefore falls into the ‘NEAP’ category for which the guidance is that the equipment should be sited a minimum of 30m from the boundary of the nearest dwelling.
It’s relatively easy to achieve a distance of 30m from a dwelling boundary on our Village Green, but not in the location proposed by OFL. On the plan provided the distance from the nearest dwelling is approximately 11m but moving the site away pushes it nearer to the dangerous pub corner.
Also, for Oxborough, there are Conservation Village considerations. The village is rightly proud of its conservation status which is based on historical buildings and the overall look of the village. If the equipment is sited on the southern end of the Green it will be a more dominant feature than the originally proposed area. Is that desirable, if there’s a different option?
Finally I find it rather disappointing that OFL is suggesting that it needs to give re-approval after 5 years, because it looks as if the company lacks confidence in the PC’s ability to maintain the Green to a high standard in future.
In conclusion, I urge the PC to work with the equipment manufacturers to agree a safe location near to the agreed site.
It is a mystery why Cllr Monson, acting as OFL, should wish to impose such strange and seemingly unreasonable conditions on the PC and the village, however I look forward to the PC bringing this rather sorry saga to a positive outcome. Indeed I also look forward to taking my grandchildren to play on the new equipment.
Cc Graham Allison, Linda Buckingham, Bernie Chapman