Hundreds sign petition amid fresh fears over Sheffield's largest public park

Barbara Greatorex, Ernest Brewin and Caroline Dewar, of the Friends of Graves Park, in the arboretum

Barbara Greatorex, Ernest Brewin and Caroline Dewar, of the Friends of Graves Park, in the arboretum

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A new petition to protect Sheffield's largest public park has been launched amid fears more land could be sold.

Sheffield Council auctioned off the 17th-century Cobnar Cottage, at Graves Park, in January, raising £152,000 - despite 12,840 people signing a petition to prevent the sale.

Sheffield Council is spending the proceeds from the sale of Cobnar Cottage on new play equipment and tennis courts, among other work, at Graves Park

Sheffield Council is spending the proceeds from the sale of Cobnar Cottage on new play equipment and tennis courts, among other work, at Graves Park

Campaigners claimed its disposal broke covenants protecting the 87-acre park, which was gifted to the city by JG Graves, and would set a precedent allowing more of the public land to fall into private hands.

The council says the sale enabled the 'dilapidated eyesore' to be refurbished and generated funds for new play equipment, stables for the animal farm and five tennis courts due to be installed at the park, in Norton Lees. It has also insisted the cottage's sale would not lead to the loss of further parkland.

But the Friends of Graves Park, which led the campaign to stop the sale, believes the park remains under threat from future development.

An online petition by the group entitled 'Protect Graves Park! Protect Our Heritage!' already had nearly 1,700 signatures on Thursday morning - just six days after its launch.

Cobnar Cottage, at Graves Park, before it was sold

Cobnar Cottage, at Graves Park, before it was sold

The group has also set up a fundraising page to pay for a possible legal tussle with the council over the terms of the park's protection and whether these were breached by the cottage's sale.

Caroline Dewar, the group's chairman, said it had been fighting for 20 years to prevent the sale of parkland, having previously succeeded in preserving the Norton Nurseries site, and she believed the battle was far from over.

She said her fears were intensified when the council recently refused to hand over part of the old nurseries land - which she said is being used as a waste depot - for the group to complete work on a new arboretum.

"The council says it can't hand over the land as it's in dispute with us but it's known about our plans for a long time, and they have nothing to do with the dispute. If they won't let us use the land to extend the arboretum, we're worried that means they're planning to sell it off after all," she said.

"JG Graves bought that land for the people of Sheffield to stop it being sold or built on. That park is for the people who can't afford to go out into Derbyshire and haven't got a car."

The friends group claims an agreement in 2009 prohibited the sale of any land within the park, and contends that the sale of Cobnar Cottage contravened those stipulations.

But the council has claimed the cottage lies outside the park's boundary and said the Charity Commission supported its legal right, as trustees of the JG Graves Charity Trust, to sell the building.

The friends group is seeking a declaration clarifying the extent of the park's protected status and has vowed to pursue the matter through the courts if necessary.

On Wednesday, cabinet members approved plans to spend more than £120,000 on the park - partly funded by the Cobnar Cottage cash - which include upgrades to toilets, playgrounds and footpaths. The remainder of the income from the cottage is due to be spent on cricket and tennis facilities in the park.

But the friends group criticised the planned work, claiming much of it was maintenance rather than improvements to facilities, which is how it says the council had promised the proceeds would be spent.

A council spokesperson said: "It is somewhat surprising that the friends group say they are unhappy with the improvements to Graves Park that have been brought about due to the sale of Cobnar Cottage.

"Around £200k is being spent on improvements including new play equipment, stables for the animal farm, and five new tennis courts – representing the biggest investment in Graves Park in a generation. The cottage itself is also now fully refurbished, rather than a dilapidated eyesore.

"We are also fully aware of the concerns of Ms Dewar and the friends group regarding the Norton Nurseries site. As we have already confirmed with her personally, we are not in position to progress any development plans with the group while they are threatening the council with legal action."

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