What now for Berry Hill Park?

Berry Hill Park Planning rejection.      'Gloomy outlook for Berry Hill Park?
Berry Hill Park Planning rejection. 'Gloomy outlook for Berry Hill Park?

A leading Mansfield councillor has urged the local authority to become trustees of a town park facing closure.

The privately owned Berry Hill Park is set to be closed to the public on November 12, unless a deal can be made to secure its financial future.

Berry Hill Park Planning rejection.  'The running track and associated out buildings on Berry Hill Park.

Berry Hill Park Planning rejection. 'The running track and associated out buildings on Berry Hill Park.

The trustees of the 60-acre park were set to meet today, with the hopes of arranging a meeting with Mansfield District Council and securing a deal for the park to stay open.

And, in a letter to your Chad, Councillor Stewart Rickersey, a cabinet member at the authority, urged them to reach an agreement for the council to become “corporate trustees” for the park.

He described the park as the “jewel in the crown” of Mansfield’s parks and said it is used by runners, dog walkers and for sporting events.

However, after a planning application to build homes on a section of the park – which would have netted the thousands of pounds for maintenance – was rejected at a meeting of the council’s planning applications committee, it faces closure.

Berry Hill Park Planning rejection.  'The running track on Berry Hill Park.

Berry Hill Park Planning rejection. 'The running track on Berry Hill Park.

Opposition to the development include concerns about the loss of green space and an access to the park, as well as fears it could spark more development on the site.

Planning officers recommended refusal for the homes, saying it was contrary to the Local Plan, which states permission will not be granted for developments which would lead to the loss of major public open space areas and local parks, unless they would enhance the facility for recreational use.

The plans, by Linby Homes, would have seen a new cul-de-sac on a section of the park off Berry Hill Lane, which would included two houses, five bungalows and a dormer bungalow on the land owned by Berry Hill Social Welfare Centre.

Berry Hill Park’s trustees run the green space for the Coal Industry and Social Welfare Organisation (CISWO). Its mission statement is to run the park for the people of Mansfield.

The trustees – who are legally liable for the park – say enough is enough and they cannot continue to run the park which is haemorrhaging money. The leader of a youth football team said they had been given just three weeks’ notice to quit after the trustees told them it was set to close on Monday, November 12.

We publish Coun Rickersey’s letter below this story.

Trustees update

‘Trustees’ position was untenable’

John Stevens, Berry Hill Park Trust secretary, said: “We have £20,000 in the bank and £70,000 in loans based on the premise the housing deal would go through.

“In the past the park was pretty much maintained by the pit, but that closed in 1988.

“It is mainly financed by events, the local football club and the cafe, but is losing money.

“The trustees have come to the end of their capacity to continue running the park.

“We haven’t got the resources and as trustees we are concerned about our personal liabilities.”

“It has become intolerable and we are not prepared to do it any more.

“It is a registered charity run by three ageing mining trustees who do not want it any more.

It needs an enthusiastic and vibrant new set of trustees.

“It is a big site and it needs about £200,000 spending on it just to make it right.

“The piece of green field for development is just a sliver of land less than half the size of a football pitch.”

‘If we can’t play we could be fined’

Paul Shelton, manager of North Derbyshire League Division One side Mansfield Boys FC, who play their home games at the park, said: “We have been playing on Berry Hill Park for the past nine years and we have spent thousands of pounds there.

“There is a running club there and a cafe, people walk their dogs. There must be 60 or 70 youngsters who are affected by this. We have stuff up there in containers we have to get rid of in two weeks. We cut the grass ourselves.

“We have been told they will barricade it up. If we can’t play there we could be fined by the league.”

Why building plans were opposed

Councillor Stephen Garner, Mansfield South Independent Group member for Racecourse ward, said: “I am against it on principle we shouldn’t be building on green space. Once it has gone it has gone.

“If the charity can’t afford to run the park they should give it to someone else who can run it in the same vein. They should relinquish it to Mansfield District Council or a third party with the same intentions.

“They said they wanted to spend about £150,000 on the park - what will happen when the money from the houses has run out?”

“They will want to put more land up for sale

“This is about saving green space and parkland in Mansfield. Why don’t they find somewhere else to build the houses like on the old brewery site.

“People are passionate about the park. At the cross-country event on Saturday there were thousands there. When Mansfield Harriers used the park they used to pay £9,000 a year.

“If the council took it on it won’t cost them a lot of money. They would get the Harriers back. If it cost say £40,000 a year to run, you could offset that by track meetings and cross country and sporting facilities .

“It is a beautiful park which has been allowed to go to dilapidation.

“They are talking about CISWO getting £400,000 for the land, but are putting just £200,000 back. If they were putting it all in it might have lasted last six to eight years.”

Councillor voted against proposals

Councillor Stuart Wallace, Independent Forum member for Carr Bank ward, voted against the development.

He said: “The officer made the recommendation to refuse. Obviously we looked at all the information and considered the objections to it and the supporters of it.

“The members of the committee who went with it was the decision we made.

“It is green space and I don’t think we should be necessarily taking beautiful park land for housing.

“We look at each individual application and all comments and make an informed decision.”

A letter from councillor Stewart Rickersey

Dear Sir,

Berry Hill Park – a disaster in the making

Members of Mansfield District Council’s planning committee decided on Monday, October 22, to refuse an application to build eight homes on the piece of land which sits between 150 Berry Hill Lane and the Miners Pension Fund offices.

The majority of the parcel of land in question is already held on a long-term lease by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation from the Berry Hill Park Trust.

This, together with the smaller part of the land under consideration, about the size of a third of a football pitch, had been earmarked for sale to Linby Homes for the eight homes.

The committee was two councillors short when the meeting started at 5pm. Councillor Andy Wetton and Coun Brian Lohan, both Labour, did not arrive in time for the start of the discussion and were consequently unable to vote on the merits of the application.

All five of those who voted to turn down the application were members of the Independent Forum – Coun Martin Wright, Coun Stuart Wallace, Coun Bill Drewett, Coun Vaughan Hopewell and Coun Kevin Brown.

The four who supported the application were Coun Sally Higgins, Coun John Kerr and Coun Terry Clay, all Labour, supported by Coun Nick Bennett, of the Forum.

Given the fact that Coun Wetton stated at the meeting that had he been able to vote he would have supported the application, and Coun Lohan also not having a vote, the application could have been approved on a vote of six to five.

Such are the idiosyncrasies of the planning committee’s procedures. Therein lies another long story.

It is well known that the park is in a poor state of repair.

However, what is not widely known across the district is that the park is privately owned, although all those who live around the park, and it’s safe to assume the 78 objectors to the application, would be aware of this very important fact. Berry Hill Park Trust is run by volunteers, all ex-miners who take no monetary gain, but who do in fact bear the very real legal responsibility for the park and everything on it.

In years gone by, the council had an agreement with the Trust that it would maintain the park in return for the park being kept open for the public.

And that worked well for more than 20 years coming to a sad end when a scheme put forward by the trust for a multi-million pound leisure development which included tennis courts, bowling green and much more failed, because MDC was unable to deliver on a pledge to put in £1 million alongside Nottinghamshire County Council’s £1m pledge. This led to a fall out with the trust and the agreement lapsing at its term end.

Early in 2017, Kate Allsop, Mansfield mayor, tasked me with rebuilding the relationship between the council and the trust in view of my involvement with them during the “BHP Clean Up” days so well supported by the Chad, local tradespeople and Rotary volunteers.

Over the past 18 months I have met with the trustees on numerous occasions and also with the CISWO chief executive officer twice.

In addition I have met with the developer, Linby Homes, and played a small part in getting their agreement to carry out substantial works on the park over and above the cost of acquiring the land.

The basic numbers are this:

Linby Homes has paid £20,000 as a non-refundable deposit from a total of £450,000 agreed for the total parcel of land leaving £430,000. Of that £190,000 was earmarked to go to CISWO by way of compensation for their giving up their long-term lease, with a further £70,000 being repaid for money lent to the trust in recent years to maintain the park. CISWO was intending also to set aside £50,000 from the proceeds for contingencies, thus £120,000 left to the trust. Except they would not have had the money directly as under the trust’s Constitution all moneys would have to be paid to CISWO who in turn, if they agreed, would be able to consider an application from the trust for a schedule of works to be paid for. Importantly, the money paid to CISWO could only be used on the park.

In May of this year the trust wrote to MDC to ask if it would take on the role of corporate trustees or, to put it more simply, take over the park, albeit not the legal ownership as that would remain with the trust and its original obligations when it was set up. That determination has not yet been considered by the council, although a preliminary examination of what’s involved has begun. The trustees have made it clear they do not have the resources to maintain the park, let alone the capital investment that the park so obviously needs. One estimate of these costs is about £235,000.

The refusal of the planning application which would have made funds available to the trust via CISWO places the trustees in a very difficult position.

It has not come as a surprise to me to hear the trustees have decided to close the park. I know they were hopeful the money from sale of the land would provide the funds they so desperately need to meet their obligations from a health and safety standpoint ,since in the current circumstances they would be personally liable for any claim made against them.

And what then? Well consider this doomsday scenario.

The trust ceases to exist and the park is closed. The park is returned to CISWO which has already said it does not want it back. Vandals climb over the walls and gates. Travellers force their way onto the park but there is no legal body to be able to step in and have them removed. Remember it’s a private park, not land owned by the council.

A developer buys the land on a speculative basis and sticks it in his “land bank” in the hope that in 10-15 years, with the park having been vandalised, a home to drug users etc, that the council, with pressure from those same objectors in 2018 who then want the land sold for development with planning for 750 houses. My guess is the planning committee at that time would grant permission.

And, hey presto, everything the FOBH and others wanted to avoid in 2018 happens, almost by default.

Improbable? I don’t think so.

If two more councillors had turned up on time, it’s probable planning for just eight homes would have been granted.

With £120,000 plus another £40,000 committed by the developer for ground works, and £30,000 of ring-fenced Section 106 money and the trust’s current operating cash of about £20,000 in its bank, then £210,000 would have been available to the new corporate trustees i.e. the council.

Money that could only be spent on the park. A park returned to its former glories under the safe management control of the council and available for everyone across the district to enjoy its facilities. Not just those on Berry Hill who enjoy the solace of walking their dogs there and the many who currently use the park for football and athletics and hopefully the return of the Mansfield Harriers to use as their home once again.

In the future those that objected and many, many more people who use the park and wanted to see it returned to its former glory, will need to remember that Coun Wright, Coun Wallace, Coun Drewett, Coun Hopewell and Coun Brown all refused the application.

At least the three Labour members Coun Higgins, Coun Kerr and Coun Clay who were supported by Coun Bennett, of MIF, could see the overwhelming advantages to the park and were prepared to ignore the “nimby” approach so often heard at planning committee meetings.

Yours

Councillor Stewart Rickersey

Mansfield District Council member for Eakring ward.