Campaign group considers legal action over plans to fence off land near Peterborough school

Campaigners say they are considering legal action over plans to fence off open land near a Peterborough school.

Friday, 11th December 2020, 5:45 am
Werrington residents protest against a fence being erected around the playing fields behind Ken Stimpson School in October.

Residents in Werrington have campaigned against plans for fencing to be placed around three sports pitches next to Ken Stimpson School which have been used as shared green space for decades.

Organisers of the Save Werrington Fields group have said they are fundraising to support a possible legal challenge to the fencing plans.

Earlier this week Peterborough City Council said gates to fencing placed around the land will remain unlocked following the protests.

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Werrington residents protest against the fence plans in October.

The school and council have also suggested lowering the proposed weldmesh fence height from 2.4 metres to 2 metres, though the campaign group rejected this.

The campaign group is now considering legal action after finding a restrictive covenant in the Land Registry deeds and said plans to leave gates unlocked had angered them.

The group has said that a ‘restrictive covenant’ on the land means that the plans are open to a legal challenge.

Campaigners have been told by the council that the covenant has been reviewed and that it believes “that there is nothing in it that prevents the installation of a fence on the site being proposed. The only restriction would be if we were intending to change the use of the land from public open space, public gardens or public recreation”.

Jenna Nyiak, from Save Werrington Fields said: “We are frankly at a loss as to how the council could proceed with the fence both legally and in good conscience.

“On the one hand, the council and school insist the fence is crucial for student safety.

“On the other, you say the gates will be left open at all times for people to wander in and out as they please.

“It is quite clear from the planning application that the fence was designed to keep the public out while in use by the school, so for you to now say that there will be public access at all times makes a complete mockery of the argument that a fence is needed at all.

“It has now been shown that this area was always meant to be preserved for the benefit of the whole community.

“The reality is that the compromise the council has been forced to take, having now discovered the covenant and Public Open Spaces legislation, serves only to keep out local residents while doing nothing to safeguard students against the risks the school says the staff and students face.

“There is still no credible evidence being offered to justify the fence. The latest report is using crime statistics for the whole of Peterborough (including entirely irrelevant domestic abuse and shoplifting reports) to show Werrington is a crime hotspot and prove the need for the fence.

“It also says the Government requires the fence to be two metres tall. Yet when you read the guidance you find that isn’t quite true, as this is for school premises, not shared fields. And if this is the case why does the primary school immediately next to Ken Stimpson and also the one on Glinton’s main street have a fence half the size. If government guidelines require it, why wasn’t it also required by Ofsted?

“For residents, there is no question that this will be a loss of a much-loved open space, and the harm is two-fold. There is the physical barrier of the fence, but also the visual impact it will have, causing the decimation of the area’s peace, tranquillity and one of the city’s most beautiful tree-lined avenues. It’s impossible to make a 2m fence covering three football pitches and a running track, ‘blend in’ as has been suggested, and it’s a joke to suggest it for anyone who uses it.”

Paul Bristow, MP for Peterborough has held meetings with both parties to discuss the matters and is ‘pleased’ to see some progress.

He said: “Campaigners and I asked for compromise on three areas, height, access and scale.

“We succeeded in reducing the height of the fence and now have unrestricted access. We had hoped for a reduction in the size of the fenced area but this has not yet been achieved. We will continue to make this case.

“What was important was that people got round the table and talked. I want to thank Save Werrington Fields campaigners, Nyree, Jenna (and others) and Brian Urwin from the school for listening to one another. While many will still be unhappy, I am pleased at least some compromises have been made.”