Friends of Graves Park lose court case against Sheffield Council
A friends group who have continuously fought to protect Sheffield’s biggest park have lost their court case against the council following plans to sell off the park’s assets.
Graves Park covers around 250 acres of thousand-year-old woodland, open green space, playgrounds, ponds and even a small animal farm and is neighboured by Norton, Woodseats and Meadowhead.
It was developed by former Sheffield mayor J.G.Graves between 1926 and 1936 and is enjoyed by residents across the city, and is also the venue for the annual Highland Fling, which draws in visitors from across the country and, sometimes the globe.
The Friends of Graves Park have been working hard to ensure the space stays in the hands of the public, and after Sheffield Council sold off the park’s stone-built 17th century Cobnar Road Cottage they decided to take their case to court.
The group claimed the council broke the law when they sold the cottage as it was not theirs to sell as it fell under a covenant which protects assets of the park from being sold off.
But the council said it had written acknowledgement from the Charity Commission of its power to sell the cottage
However, despite this, it has now been revealed the group have lost their court action and have had all costs awarded against them.
Caroline Dewar, chair of Friends of Firth Park, said the group were ‘devastated’ by the judgement in the High Court.
She said: “While we accept that this case was always going to be difficult, we were quietly confident (perhaps too quiet) that the legal documents protecting J G Graves’s gift were clear that there is no power of sale, ironically something repeated in the judgement.
“As it stands, Sheffield City Council can make a case for selling off as much of Graves Park as they want, provided they spend those funds on the rest of the park.”
If the group choose to accept the decision, they must find over £36,000 to cover the court costs, or if not raise the money for an appeal.
“The Friends are shocked and disappointed by the performance in court and the way in which the case was conducted,” Caroline added.
“The Friends of Graves Park have taken this action on behalf of the citizens of Sheffield, to try and protect what was given to them in trust.
“Governments and Councils come and go, there are lean years sometimes, but once this beautiful and rare gift is gone, it is gone forever.
“We must try and protect Graves Park, all of Graves Park from sale or disposal, because the past 20 years have taught us that those who wish to sell off the property of the people for their own gain will not stop and go away until they are stopped for good.”
The Friends of Graves Park are now asking for help try raise at last £40,000 to cover legals costs, and the costs awarded against them.
Anyone wishing to donate to the campaign can do so by visiting the friends group Just Giving page here.
Councillor Mary Lea, Cabinet Member for Culture, Parks and Leisure said: “It is regrettable that we found ourselves in the High Court defending the Council’s decision to sell Cobnar Cottage. However, we are pleased that, after careful consideration of the evidence and legal arguments put to him, the High Court judge found that the Council had acted fully in accordance with its legal duties and responsibilities in the sale of the cottage.
“We surveyed a large number of park users before coming to any decision and 80 percent of them supported the idea of selling the cottage and investing the proceeds into their park. Every penny from the proceeds of the sale of Cobnar Cottage has already been invested into improving Graves Park and has enabled us to upgrade the field shelters at our Animal Farm, improve play facilities, upgrade the toilets and contributed to the refurbishments of the tennis courts.
“As trustees of Graves Park we always act in the best interests of the park and its visitors to make sure we can maintain high standards and wherever possible we will continue to invest in our parks for the benefit of our communities.
“The Council has been put to some cost in defending the legal proceedings taken against it by the Friends of Graves Park. We will be looking to recover a significant proportion of those costs from the Friends Group.”