Three way battle over future of village

GREEN BELT: Fields alongside the Trans Pennine Trail in Oxspring, with campaigner John Wade who wants housing plans transferred to another village location.
GREEN BELT: Fields alongside the Trans Pennine Trail in Oxspring, with campaigner John Wade who wants housing plans transferred to another village location.
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A  three way battle over the future of a rural village is emerging with council planners, a parish council and property developer in dispute over plans which could leave the community looking radically different in future.

A three way battle over the future of a rural village is emerging with council planners, a parish council and property developer in dispute over plans which could leave the community looking radically different in future.

UNDER THREAT: Former councillor John Wade who has spent more than 40 years protecting this view in Oxspring.

UNDER THREAT: Former councillor John Wade who has spent more than 40 years protecting this view in Oxspring.

The village of Oxspring appeared to have been spared any major housing developments in the foreseeable future, like all villages in the borough of Barnsley, as the council formulated plans to build thousands of new homes but focus them almost exclusively on larger urban areas.

That plan came unstuck when a Government planning inspector intervened and told Barnsley Council that it had not only underestimated numbers of new homes needed, but that some should be in village locations.

Planners responded by earmarking an area of land alongside the River Don, which flows alongside the village’s main route of Sheffield Road, for an estate of houses.

But that plan is being challenged by both Oxspring Parish Council, which believes the village should not be expected to carry any further big housing developments and property development company Yorkshire Land, which has its own site a short distance away.

It has resulted in a situation where none of the three parties agree with each other and an increasingly fractious situation where the parish council has been accused of trying to stifle free debate.

Historically, land had been earmarked for potential housing development by council planners, but they have not moved forwards with bringing that into play as a site they actively want to see used for homes.

Instead, they have found a new site, alongside the River Don which they believe will help answer the whole district’s housing shortage, without a detrimental effect on the village.

Meanwhile Yorkshire Land wants to see a stretch of farmland on one edge of the village developed for housing in a scheme which would also provide a sports pavilion and tourism hub, recognising its location alongside the Trans Pennine Trail.

Barnsley Council has already dismissed that site, already given the speculative name Oxspring Fields, on the grounds it is in the Green Belt and too valuable an asset to be lost to housing, though their own preferred site is also a Green Belt location and one which, some villages say, would result in lost views across a valley if it was developed.

Oxspring Parish Council oppose both plans and would prefer developments in the village to be restricted to small ‘infill’ projects, fearing the character of the community would change with large scale developments.

Councillors have been involved in drawing up a neighbourhood plan for the village, a document which if adopted would carry some legal weight but which needs Barnsley Council approval.

The current draft would see housing development restricted to small sites and as such, the document’s development is on hold until the outcome of Barnsley Council’s plans become clear.

Its ambitions in Oxspring form part of the forthcoming Local Plan, a blueprint for jobs and housing growth which will guide the district into the 2030s and which has been the subject of work by planners over several years.

It needs the approval of planning inspector Sarah Housden before it can be adopted and she will hearing the council’s response to her concerns about housing numbers and the lack of village locations at hearings due to take place next month.

However, Yorkshire Land is also expected to put up an argument for its own site, which owner Stephen Green believes would be better suited for commuters by keeping traffic out of the village centre, as well as incorporating public facilities for all residents’ use.

To help justify its decision making on new housing sites in village locations, Barnsley Council carried out a ‘scoring’ exercise for sustainability and Oxspring came out on top, meaning develop in some form is very likely.

Mr Green has questioned the suitability of the council’s preferred site for housing, arguing that it is too close to the river and on a steeply sloping site which would make development difficult.

Though he said the council’s assessment of Oxspring’s suitability for housing applied to his site as much as theirs.

In the village, Oxspring Parish Council have held two public meetings, explaining the detail of Barnsley Council’s new plan and encouraging those who wished to raise observations on planning matters with the council to do so.

But they have been criticised for refusing to allow debate on the so-called Oxspring Fields site, on the grounds it has not been earmarked by Barnsley Council.

That has led to Yorkshire Land writing a letter of objection and pointing out that, legally, there would be nothing to prevent such a debate.

Lifelong villager John Wade, who has a history of services on several councils spanning five decades, said he attended a public meeting called by the parish council but was prevented from expressing his view that the Oxspring Fields site was a better option, being told the meeting was about Barnsley Council’s plans.

“I was disgusted,” he said and now he plans to attend a meeting next month being held by Mrs Housden to examine Barnsley Council’s latest proposals, so he can make his comments directly to her.

“I have fought for more than 40 years to keep that valley from development and I won’t stop now,” he said.

“I put my money where my mouth was and bought one field to make sure no-one would ever build on it.”

Mr Wade fought to get old folks bungalows built in the village while serving as a councillor decades ago and believes new development would benefit villagers with much needed affordable housing, but the site had to be suitable, he said.

Oxspring Parish Council Chairman Ian Goldthorpe said the public meeting had been well attended and so many wanted to speak that a decision was made to take questions, rather than allowing speeches.

The parish council had objected to plans for housing alongside the River Don and if their arguments were accepted by the inspector, the proposal could be rejected, he said.