It’s residents vs developers as 2021 becomes the year of planning battles in Sheffield
There will be two David and Goliath battles in Sheffield next year as residents take on the might of developers.
Two different community groups will fight separate planning inquiries. Both developers had their schemes overwhelmingly rejected by councillors – but both have appealed.
In January, Owlthorpe Action Group will square up to Avant Homes, which wants to build 74 new homes on a wildlife haven at Crystal Peaks.
And in April, the Friends of Loxley Valley and Campaign to Protect Rural England will go up against Patrick Properties and its plans to build 300 new homes on the old Hepworth’s site.
Campaigners spent months fighting the plans and had brief relief and celebrations when they were overturned by councillors. But they now need to go into battle once more at the planning inquiries – and this time it will be expensive.
Both groups have fundraising appeals of £15,000 to help them pay for professional expertise while Sheffield Council – which is batting on the same side as residents – will also have its own team.
Both groups are also volunteers, who have given their time to do everything -from leafleting to navigating planning policies – while juggling their own jobs, families and lives during a pandemic.
Christine Rippon, of Owlthorpe Fields Action Group, said when their campaign started they were advised to prepare for a hard slog.
“We began in 2018 by hand delivering 2,000 leaflets and followed up with a petition – there were just three of us initially, knocking on doors in a cold October.
“The response rate to the petition was well above 90 per cent and was key for us to understand the level of support we had. It also resulted in many offers of help.
“We formed a committee and had several meetings with our MP Clive Betts, councillors and planning officers. They willingly engaged with us, but made it clear the site was allocated for housing in the 1960s and that was still planning policy.
“We, in turn, made it clear that we represented the majority view of local residents who wanted to protect the land for wildlife and the health and wellbeing of our communities.”
The group took advice from Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, Friends of the Earth, Sheffield Bird Study Group, the Woodland Trust, Sheffield Tree Action Group, Yorkshire Butterfly Conservation and others.
Christine said: “They provided much needed advice and helped us grow in confidence. We learnt quickly that to fight a development, it’s not enough to put forward arguments, you have to show an application is not in line with policy.
“To do that, you have to get to grips with local and national planning policy, while simultaneously considering the planning application itself.
“None of us had a background in planning. We found the amount of work required to understand policy, and then to argue on policy effectively, in a very short space of time, was quite exhausting.”
Campaigners were delighted when the application was rejected by the planning committee but they knew Avant Homes would appeal because planning officers had recommended it for approval.
The housing developer said it had included 15 per cent affordable housing and local roads could cope with increased traffic.
It said it had taken extensive ecological surveys and where possible, any impact would be avoided and a plan has been prepared to ensure sensitive long term management of the site. And it stressed the estate would be really important to support the construction sector and the economy.
Local residents vowed to fight on.
“We were advised that to stand any chance of successfully contesting the appeal, we needed an advocate or at the very least expert witnesses to represent us,” said Christine.
“This doesn’t come cheap, so fundraising began in earnest in July, although we have been severely hampered by the lockdown.
“We launched a GoFundMe page and designed a calendar with photos of the wildlife of Owlthorpe Fields taken by local residents. It’s selling really well and we are very grateful to those who have generously donated so far.
“We are making progress with the funding we need but lockdown has meant we have been unable to hold stalls at local shops as we did earlier this year.
“Much of what we have achieved has been made possible because of support from residents and publicity in the local media.”
The volunteers are now on standby for the inquiry. “It has been a gruelling two year slog so far and has overwhelmed many of us at times.
“If I knew then, what I know now, would I have got involved in Owlthorpe Fields Action Group? My answer is a resounding yes.
“It’s the right thing to do, for the right reasons, at the right time. It’s right to fight for wildlife, for the planet and for our community.
“A year spent observing flora and fauna has brought home to us all how much we need and value this rewilded land, and how much the wildlife that inhabit it need us to speak for them.
“The experience has brought new friendships and brought our communities together. I seriously wonder how we would have coped with lockdown without these new friends and without the flowers, wildlife and walking in the woods on Owlthorpe Fields.”
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