Campaigners threaten Judicial Review if council moves ahead with controversial ring-road plan in Barnsley

Controversial plans for a new traffic gyratory on a public park between Barnsley town centre and the M1 look set to clear the last legal hurdle with senior councillors advised to make the land available – although they have been warned that decision could be challenged in court.

Coun Peter Fielding at the threatened Penny Pie Park
Coun Peter Fielding at the threatened Penny Pie Park

Barnsley Council insists there is no viable option other than to install a ring road around Penny Pie Park, almost five hectares of open ground off Dodworth Road where an existing crossroads has become a congestion blackspot.

But the project, which has already been approved and given planning permission, provoked fierce opposition with campaigner Peter Fielding elected as a Lib Dem councillor in May.

Now the council’s ruling Cabinet is being asked to formally switch the use of part of the site from parkland to highways use, a technical change which is needed to allow the development to move forwards.

A report going before Cabinet members also spells out the actions planned to minimise the impact of the development, including the introduction of more new trees than the numbers which would be lost and improvements to a children’s playground at the nearby Sugden’s recreation ground.

Pedestrians and cyclists would benefit from a wide, shared, path around the gyratory and through the centre of the park, which would remain largely intact with the ring-road around the perimeter of the land.

Several new ‘pelican’ or ‘toucan’ pedestrian crossings would be introduced and the council believes the scheme would improve road safety, particularly for students of nearby Horizon college.

Switching the use of council owned land is called ‘appropriation’ and to do so, the authority obliged to carry out consultations and take the results into consideration.

More than 100 letters were received by the council, raising concerns including noise nuisance, the loss of mature trees and that further land could be taken from the park in future.

The report to councillors warns their decision may not be the end of the process, however: “As with most administrative decisions made by public authorities, the decision to appropriate land is subject to challenge by judicial review.

“The council must be able to demonstrate the purpose for the appropriation and that it has taken all of the relevant considerations into account and not taken any irrelevant considerations into account.

“In particular, the council must consider, having regard to the proposed new facilities for park users, and in the light of the representations made following the consultation exercise, whether the part of Penny Pie Park to which the proposed appropriation relates, is no longer required for the purposes for which it is presently held.”

Coun Fielding said the Save Penny Pie Park group would take legal advice on whether to challenge the council with a Judicial Review if the decision is taken push ahead with development.

“They are fully intending to push ahead with a Judicial Review and will start a crowd funding exercise,” he said.

“That will happen unless we have strong legal advice that we are wasting our time.”

Observations were carried out at the park over two days, to establish the type of usage it attracts, with a peak of 128 people using the park over a 30 minute period on a weekday afternoon in May. Most were school children, but others included dog walkers and several using a ‘Muga’ play area.

Coucillors are advised: “Penny Pie Park is perceived to be used principally for informal recreational use, dog walking and as a walk through from residential areas, convenience store, school, bus stops and town centre.”

Despite the proposals to minimise the impact of the new road, experts who are advising Cabinet members accept there are serious disadvantages.

Their report explains the decision to give planning consent: “Although the scheme regrettably gives rise to a number of significant adverse impacts and although these can be mitigated to some extent, they nonetheless attract substantial weight.

“On balance therefore, whilst the proposal did not comply with the development plan, the great weight attributed to the benefits of the scheme was considered to outweigh the substantial weight given to the adverse impacts. Accordingly, other material considerations exist to justify a departure from the development plan and the application was therefore approved subject to the necessary conditions.”

*A new 900 pupil secondary school could be built close enough to the congested Dodworth Road crossroads to put increased pressure on a junction which has seen traffic congestion escalate in the last two decades.

Barnsley Council needs a new school to cope with predicted pupil levels in future and Coun Peter Fielding said one potential site was land off Broadway, a short distance from what may become the Penny Pie Park gyratory.

The new school was expected to be a faith academy, he said, leading to an expectation it would attract pupils from across the borough rather than just its immediate geographic area, potentially generating high levels of car journeys for the ‘school run’.

He is now suggesting Barnsley Council should look for vacant land close to the town centre, providing a more convenient option for the school community.

“To me, the new school should be in the town centre. I would suggest somewhere like the old brewery site, I think that sort of location would be far better,” he said.

The site off Broadway is currently disused playing fields and adjacent land, which is in the joint ownership of Barnsley Council and other public bodies, he said.

An alternative plan for the future of that site would be a development of around 140 houses, which had already been subject to consultation in the area, added Coun Fielding.