In mid February 2014 a notice appeared on the Lakefield gate of Wednesfield High School announcing that the Council would be applying to the Secretary of State, Michael Gove to dispose of the Lakefield part of the school playing fields. The notice explained that under a 1998 law this had to happen if the Council wanted to sell the land and all that had to happen was for the Minister to consider the application along with any comments from the school and ‘registered users’.
I could not find any more information about this in open Council reports and internet information. There just seemed to be this one notice and some residents did not believe me until I showed them a photo of the notice. I raised the disposal with a Ward Councillor who also had a great deal of trouble finding anything more. I asked what the land would be used for. I was told that this was not clear strategically but it could be used for industrial purposes.
I decided I would make residents who were neighbours of the site aware of the proposal and delivered 80 or so leaflets with the information I had found. A couple of weeks later a resident tweeted the Council and was responded to with a message that it would be marketed for housing.
I used twitter to make others aware of the proposal and then took up Jerome Turner’s Offer to help me put the information I had collated on to a website.
The Councils Response.
A month after I had first asked about the proposal to dispose of the site, I received a very detailed letter from a Council officer explaining that the Council just could not consult widely with local residents until Mr Gove had given his decision about the disposal of the playing fields, probably in the summer. This letter explained that following the redevelopment of the School under The Building Schools for the Future programme, the school no longer needed the Lakefield site. Housing was the preferred use and the officer pointed me to two strategies I had not heard of before: a housing strategy and a Wednesfield open space strategy. The former is over 200 pages long and I am none too sure how it relates to this land, while I can’t find the open space strategy.
The letter also explains that while Wednesfield may be losing green space it is gaining newly publicly accessible open space on the Jennie Lee site and potentially the Lakefield site.
My concern is for the loss of further green space following the redevelopment of the Jennie Lee/Wards Bridge site. 30 years ago many Wednesfield residents supported a successful campaign to force Council and industry to reduce industrial pollution in the area, and the battle for the environment has, it seems, still to be made. Whilst I am sympathetic to the need for more local housing, I am told that there is evidence that the public health of residents benefits from the presence of green space. This provides an antidote to the more negative effects of industry and makes the local environment more attractive as well as providing space for leisure and sport.
Who will get to decide?
However, it is currently not clear how much control the Council has over the Lakefield site. I understand the Minister literally could just give the land to a new Free School, robbing the Council of a sale price and the community of new houses and accessible open space. I would expect potential Free school operators to have approached neighbours of land it wants to build on, and as far as I am concerned , this has not happened. This possibility, though, may explain why the Council has been so silent about this proposal, although some residents may believe that such a proposal may help keep the site mainly green.
If the land is returned to the Council, we seem , from the Officer letter, to have been promised consultation on the design of any development whereas there is no such guarantee for free school use. I would like to see, for instance, the development of a green corridor linking Fibbersley LNR with the Canal through the new Wards Bridge and possible Lakefield open space.
Someone once said the price of democracy is eternal vigilance. QED.