Councillors 'couldn’t see a redeeming feature of them at all'
Housing plans for the historic Mount Radford Lawn in St Leonard’s have been chucked out by incredulous councillors.
Burrington Estates had hoped to build seven executive new family homes on the lawn which is currently owned by the Exeter Royal Academy for Deaf Education.
Following their upcoming relocation to Exmouth, the playing field has been declared surplus to requirements, and they had decided to sell it to help finance part of the relocation plans.
But 225 letters and emails of objection against the scheme were received by Exeter City Council, and councillors on Monday night unanimously rejected the plans and slammed it, saying they ‘couldn’t see a redeeming feature of it at all’.
The rejection means that the St Leonard’s Neighbourhood Association can now move forward with their alternative vision for the site and hope to start negotiating with the school.
Their vision would see a completely inclusive play space decidated to the wellbeing of the residents of St Leonards and wider Exeter created, alongside a low-impact community building to house changing rooms, ancilliary facilities and a meeting/activity room, which would see 1000s of children and adults enjoying the benefits of outdoor exercise, sports, games, social functions, a community space and all getting much needed exercise and keeping fit.
Speaking at Monday night’s meeting, Nigel FitzHugh, chairman of St Leonard’s Neighbourhood Association, said that although the land has been owned by the school it has also been used for community and sporting events.
He added: “We are concerned about the loss of the playing field as the demand for this type of playing field is likely to increase. We intend to set up a charity trust to purchase the field for the community.
“Community ownership would be a win-win as access to playing fields would be increased without the cost of the council running the facility. We hope to be finalising an offer this week for the site, but if the playing field is removed, it will lost for ever.”
Cllr Jemima Moore, who represents Newtown and St Leonards, said it was clear that the residents opposed the development plans.
She said: “The strength of feeling is clear against this. They value <ount Radford lawn and this green space that has been used by many generations of Exonians should be saved for years to come for the community.
“They want to build very expensive houses, but they would not benefit the community. Building mini-mansions instead of the affordable housing the city needs would be a grossly inefficient use of the land.”
Fellow ward councillor Matthew Vizard asked the committee to listen to the high number of objections and to vote to refuse the application.
He added: “The St Leonards Neighbourhood Association is not naïve about such an undertaking. They know it would be a challenge but they should be allowed time to explore it and to raise money. I pledge to work with them to pursue this.
“Allowing the community to access a part of a housing development is not community space and isn’t remotely the same as a community playing field. People would feel awkward and reluctant to enter, feeling like they were trespassing.
“Mount Radford Lawn is not just some scrap of land. It is a cherished local amenity and it provides a green buffer between the local area and the congested artery that is Topsham Road. Consider its potential – the local community has, and they have made a compelling case. If this site is developed, this potential place for sport, community, health and wellbeing, this historic site, this lung in the city centre, will be lost for good.
“I played football on Saturday mornings on Mount Radford Lawn as a kid. I want other children to have that opportunity again and to preserve this space for generations to come.”
Cllr Emma Morse said: “I don’t think we should be developing the site at all and the officer’s report couldn’t be cleared about how wrong this is. I have sympathy for the Deaf School and the need to raise funds, but it is not always right to do it and they have to look for a better option. I cannot see a redeeming feature of this at all.”
Cllr Greg Sheldon said it was impressive for the application to not comply with so many planning policies and it was telling that there was no supporting speaker for the application.
He quipped: “I have forgotten the name of the developer but I can only assume it is Disney as it is such a Mickey Mouse scheme. It breaks so many rules, I cannot believe they have the brass neck to let it come to planning committee rather than pull it.”
Leader of the council, Cllr Phil Bialyk, added that he supported the green space being retained, and added: “We want developers to come to the city but we won’t sacrifice important spaces for them that need to be retained for the community.”
The application also had 63 letters and emails of support, which said it was necessary for additional funding of the Academy’s development at Exmouth for bespoke teaching, learning and residential spaces and modern resources, the Academy cannot gift Mount Radford Lawn as under charity law they are required to maximise the value of its assets and good quality houses in keeping within the area would be provided.
But the officer report recommending refusal said that the building of seven homes and a financial contribution towards affordable housing and playing pitches did not outweigh the harm the development would cause to heritage assets or the loss of playing fields/recreational space in the area as assessed within this report.
It added: “In addition, this scheme would provide a poor residential layout in terms of the siting of the open spaces and insufficient information has been submitted to conclude that it is acceptable in highway terms.”
Councillors unanimously refused the application on the grounds it would cause harm to the heritage assets in the St Leonards Conservation Area, it would result in the loss of existing playing fields, areas of public open space would be inappropriately sited, they were unable to confirm that the scheme meets necessary highway safety standards onto the existing highway network, and it would have an overbearing relationship to properties in Barnado Road.