The Battle for Owlthorpe Fields: The struggle for the future of Sheffield’s Green Spaces

Written by Seb McCormick

(Snowy Owlthorpe Fields from @save_our_fields.)

The Battle

The Initial stages

It was October 2018 when Sheffield City Council announced that it was seeking planning applications for construction on Owlthorpe Fields in South-East Sheffield. Almost instantly, people began to fight for their local green spaces. So began the Battle of Owlthorpe Fields, one that is ongoing to this day.

The Owlthorpe Fields Action Group was established soon after the decision was made. They began to campaign for local residents and their opposition to the construction project.

They said: “Now, more than ever, residents value and cherish this wild space – we have no local park or other usable green open space. It provides a place for outdoor education, for birdwatching and to learn about flora and fauna. It provides a place to walk, to run, to spend time alone, or with family and friends, providing physical and mental health benefits, offering peace and tranquillity.Β  It’s a wonderful resource for the community, for our children to grow up in and enjoy for many years to come.”

The Application

The battle had begun. In 2019, a Planning Application for the construction of 74 homes was submitted by Avant Homes. Campaigners hit back stating that the re-wilding had taken place in the Fields. Construction would put endangered species that had recently moved back into the area at risk.

The timeline of the dispute over Owlthorpe Fields.

The timeline of the dispute over Owlthorpe Fields.

The group put forward their own proposal for a ‘wildlife corridor’ in collaboration with Dr. Patrick Harrison of the University of Hull. They believe this will improve the health of people living in the bottom 30% of the Indices of Multiple Deprivation Data.

Widespread support for the Owlthorpe Fields Action Group was found within the community, local Green Party Councillor Douglas Johnson indicated his opposition to the planning application and said that urban sprawl was one of the great failures of the 20th Century.

He said: “No social rented affordable housing is proposed: shared ownership accommodation is a particularly bad deal and it is notable the developer has refused to mix β€œaffordable” housing in with the other executive homes.”

The Planning Application was rejected in June 2020 with not a single Councillor voting in favour of the proposal.

But the battle was not yet over.

The Appeal

Avant Homes soon indicated their decision to appeal the determination by the councillors and the process began in January 2021.

The opposition had the support of Sheffield South-East MP Clive Betts who stated his disappointment in the decision by the housing company to appeal the decision.

“I am bitterly disappointed that Avant Homes do not wish to engage with the local Owlthorpe Community. This will be a huge mistake and I support Sheffield City Council in doing all they can to prevent this development going ahead.”

The appeal was held between the 12th January to the 21st January. The result will be released by the 12th March.

The War

Developers vs People

This dispute is part of the larger war between people and developers over green space. One that is being fought across the UK. This fight has reached a new level of urgency as the COVID-19 pandemic has begun to highlight the necessity of green spaces for ordinary people.

Olivia Blake, MP for Sheffield Hallam said that access to green spaces is a class issue. In the UK only one out of every eight people have a garden and not everyone can afford access to nature. This is a particularly serious issue in large cities.

She said: “Over the past year the COVID-19 pandemic has made clear just how important access to green space is for people, for recreation, health and wellbeing. Being able to access nature is a challenge for many who live in urban areas, and in Sheffield we are particularly blessed to… have much better access to nature and green spaces than many other cities in the UK and Europe.”

COVID-19 has made the issue stand out. Over the course of the many lockdowns the UK has experienced, many have turned to nature for an outlet.

The Owlthorpe Fields Action Group said: “Many of us have only now realised, during these days of lockdown, the true value of Owlthorpe Fields.Β  Where would we have walked and enjoyed being out in the fresh air, if not for this open green space?”

Similar campaigns against construction on green spaces are taking place across Sheffield. The Friends of Loxley Valley and the Campaign to Protect Rural England will also be fighting to protect green land from housing construction.

Housing vs Green Space?

Green spaces are vital to healthy communities, but so are houses.

The growing divide between local communities and the construction of housing presents serious issues for the construction industry and for wider society. New homes need to be built. The question is where and how to build them.

Ms Blake believes that the solution is based in willpower: “The solution to this is a Government that is willing to build the houses, rather than support the interests of developers.”

According to a 2019 Ipsos Mori poll, affordable social housing is popular in England. Over 60% of people support the construction of social housing in their local area. The divide is not as stark as it may seem.

The Owlthorpe Fields Action Group have set up a GoFundme, you can donate here.

 

Written by Seb McCormick

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