Campaign seeks community pledges to save Fletton Field

Fletton-FieldPhoto-15-05-2016-15-30-03The #SaveFlettonField campaign has been gathering serious momentum in recent months. With 81 different backers having pledged a total £229,455 so far, Oundle Recreation and Greenspaces Group (ORGSG) has been very effective in its efforts to protect Fletton Field.

Banners, advertisements, media campaigns, and regular trips to the local market from the ORGSG have been instrumental in the raising of awareness and financial pledges. Christina Cork, Chairwoman of the ORGSG, said: “The amount of support from the local community has been absolutely fantastic”.
The largest pledge to fund the purchase of the field is from Oundle School with £125,000, followed by the Oundle Town Council with £95,000.

The ORGSG believes that the community and the school are “completely aligned” in their plans for Fletton Field. The school’s offer came with conditions however, which include the establishment of a charity to run Fletton Field, and that the charity must involve school-appointed trustees.

The sale of Fletton Field was deemed necessary by the Northamptonshire County Council in order to fund the transition of Oundle Primary School to their new location on Cotterstock Road; the field had been the playing fields used by the Oundle Primary School pupils. However, Christina Cork said: “Fletton Field’s value is far in excess of short-term funding to plug a school’s budget, when actually they should have done their maths”.

NCC’s financial difficulties were revealed last year, and since then the council has initiated a wave of radical expenditure cuts.

NCC revealed in December 2017 that it would increase council tax by 5% in 2018-19, while cutting its spending by £34m in an attempt to pay back the £609 million of borrowing the council had accumulated over recent years.

The council attempted to get planning permission for Fletton Field, believing its value could amount to around £2 million with planning permission.

The first planning application in 2016 involved a proposal for 13 dwellings. Planning authorities at East Northamptonshire Council said: “The development, by reason of the proposed density at 19 dwellings per hectare, would not be regarded as efficient use of land”.

The initial planning permission request was refused. Its value as a playing field is believed to be around £200,000.

The issue of Fletton Field has been contentious, because, as members of the public have found, council-related information has been inaccessible, and the NCC has not been straight-forward about deadlines.

“Progress is slow with the NCC… councillors can’t give you answers because it’s not their answer to give; they don’t have the information,” according to the ORGSG.

The ORGSG also criticised the NCC’s surreptitious handling of the attempted sale. “When it first went on the market and the boards went up, they hadn’t notified the ENC, as they should have done, to give the community six months to raise funds”.

Oundle Town Council had secured the Asset of Community Value status from the ENC in 2016, which allows the community the opportunity to gather funds and submit a bid for the land ahead of any purchase by potential developers.

The NCC have not yet offered any concrete timescales or deadlines.

Fletton Field has been a public space since 1899 and its central location has benefited generations of Oundle residents. If it were to be developed by the council, Oundle’s accessible greenspace would decrease by 40%.

Neil Fraser, a member of the ORGSG, said: “Fletton Field can provide walking space, recreation space, allotments, growth space; it could be there for events, meetings…just about anything the town wants, and is soon to need”.

Mr Fraser pointed out that the aims of the ORGSG are completely aligned with Oundle town’s Neighbourhood Plan. Within the design statement of the plan, it is clearly stated: “Open spaces must be considered carefully when new developments or alterations are proposed. Open spaces used for sports and recreational use of the town are important and should not be lost.”

Greenspaces ought to be cherished, as they provide a hub for social cohesion within the town. The ORGSG firmly believe that their £280,000 target will be met, and hope that the community
continues to support the campaign.

Patrick Boyle
December 2018