"Call in" and reject housing plan for Kelvin Meadow and Children's Wood
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This petition concerns community empowerment and the well-being of tens of thousands of citizens, in particular children, from all backgrounds, against local council desire to build on rare inner-city green space. If you feel strongly about this, please read on and sign our petition.
View the comments, below the main petition argument, to get a sense for the passionate and varied support for this cause.
As you may know on Tuesday 26th of January 2016 Glasgow City Council planning committee came to visit North Kelvin Meadow and the Children's Wood before going back to the City Chambers to decide on two different planning applications for the land - the New City Vision plan to build 90 houses and the Children's Wood plan to keep the land wild and for the community. Both applications were approved.
The Council now has to send the New City Vision plan, along with their arguments for granting permission against the weight of objections, to the Scottish Government, as directed by Ministers in 2013, before they are granted planning permission.
We are calling on Scottish Government ministers to use their planning powers to call in and reject the New City Vision plan.
The planning authority acknowledges nearly 1000 representations against this housing plan from a broad spectrum of the population both demographically and geographically, not including several thousand on-line petitioners. The main argument used against these representations by Glasgow City Council’s planning authority is that the land currently has no “established planning use”. However, the land in question has always been open space for educational and community use, and it should remain so. Twenty years ago and more, this use was sport-oriented – football, athletics and tennis. Between 1996 and 2006, a local community organisation worked tirelessly towards a highly creative mixed-use development of the land, to be ultimately thwarted by a planning technicality. Again shaped by the local community, it is now a wild natural space meeting 21st century educational and community needs: instead of sport, 23 local schools and nurseries within walking distance have been supported by professionally-trained community volunteers to use it to satisfy Curriculum for Excellence outdoor learning directives; multiple weekly volunteer-led activities satisfy Glasgow City Council's own Play Strategy; and the local community use it as an "outdoor community centre", growing fresh produce, exercising, and putting on community events. In the 1990s, housing on the site was rejected by the Council's planners principally on the grounds of insufficient alternative sports facilities in the area. Now, the precedent of that rejection is as valid as ever – no suitable replacement can be offered to the wider community for this unique, re-purposed, wild space. Far from having "no planning purpose" as the planning authority believe, the site is, and always has been, a vital irreplaceable part of educational and community life in this area. It is understandable that the planning authority may not be aware of this, as in the 20-plus years of consistent energetic and creative community activity, neither they nor the Council have ever consulted meaningfully with the local community. Yet, this is clearly an early example of community empowerment - where the community has taken action over 20 years in the face of council neglect.
Direct rebuttal of the planning authority's argument
The planning authority’s argument rests on a legal understanding of “current planning status”. In summary, they judge that, because
- the Council abandoned the site in 1995 and took no further part in its upkeep, and
- they, the planning authority, are unable to see a sustained and intensive community vision for, and activity on, the land over a long period (that is, in their words, there has been “no intervening use”),
then the land can be re-purposed in any way the Council see fit.
Rebuttal of the planning authority's argument is as follows:
1. Section 8.5 of Glasgow City Council’s Sports Pitches Strategy (Release of Blaes Pitches) states:
It should be recognised however that sports pitches also act as informal recreational green spaces with value for amenity and informal outdoor use. Any proposals to dispose of sports pitches should be subject to consultation with local communities [our emphasis], and require a determination by Council that these pitch spaces are not required as part of any other open space function [our emphasis].
2. The planning authority claim that consultation took place with sportscotland, but according to the Council's own policy and strategy, this is insufficient – "consultation with local communities" is required.
3. Nobody in our community can remember such a consultation taking place around 2007. We have asked our councilors to provide evidence of such a consultation, but they have not been able to provide it.
4. We conclude therefore that no such consultation ever took place.
5. Furthermore, according to Section 8.5, the Council is required to determine that the site is "not required as part of any other open space function".
6. We are unclear how the Council made this determination. The Council view recent activity on the land over the last eight years as "temporary occupation", perhaps of a semi-formal manner. However, they are clearly unaware that, from when the site was closed as a school sporting area, the local community was using it continually for informal recreation of exactly the kind referred to in the Sports Pitch Strategy. The Inquiry Reporter for the Miller Homes appeal noted in his point 13 that “with an increasing population, the current proposal will remove a valuable community resource. Despite the official view, this site was used regularly by local groups…”.
7. Furthermore, in the face of Council neglect of the site, a highly organised group within the community, the Compendium Trust, spent ten years between 1996 and 2006 envisioning and planning a new use for the land as a mixed-use area, entirely consistent with the long tradition of the space being used for local educational and community use. Ultimately, their highly innovative plan was rejected by planners on the basis of a technicality.
8. In these 20 years of Council neglect, while the community effectively had to take over management of the land, it has been transformed from pitches to natural wild space, and in the 21st century it is as wild space that the community now derives so much value, just as in the 20th century it was as sports pitches. From a narrow technical standpoint, the use may have changed. But more broadly, the land has always supported educational and community activity as open space, and this activity has evolved in-line with the changing educational and community open space needs. On the basis of the council’s argument, a building zoned for commercial use, that had been a video store (a late 20th century need), could not now become a mobile phone shop (a 21st century need) – clearly a crazy situation.
9. In considering this application, it would be impossible to consider the site as not being used for "any other open space function." It is a major venue in the West End Festival. It has won numerous awards. Local schools and nurseries are using the site regularly led by volunteers professionally trained by the local community. Regular events and activities are being hosted by local volunteers. Raised bed allotments are in use. Local citizens use the site for informal recreation. These activities are largely led by a group with charitable status with a clear organisation structure, funding, and long-term vision and goals for the wider community.
10. Finally, contrary to the Council’s opinion, the refurbishing of the North Kelvinside pitches using the receipt from the sale of this site cannot satisfy the precedent set by the refusal of the Miller Homes application in 1996 – that the local community should be properly compensated for the loss of this open space. Refurbishing sports pitches that are already available to the community and have been neglected by the Council cannot be considered as a like-for-like replacement for a unique wild green educational and community space. Of course, the council are playing the oldest trick in the book here, by setting community groups at odds with each other. We need wild green open space AND we need sports areas, and we will work to ensure that the NK pitches are refurbished no matter what the outcome.
On the basis, therefore, of the Council's failures to exercise its own Sports Pitch Strategy correctly and to recognise the site's long-standing and continued use as an essential educational and community resource, we call on the Scottish Ministers to call-in and reject the New City Vision planning application to build houses on the land.
Wider concerns with the planning authority's response
We reject the view that housing density is not an issue. The current density of existing housing in this area is continually rising, yet the planning authority’s determination is based only on a myopic view of the particular density within the space itself. As noted already, the Inquiry Reporter for the Miller Homes appeal remarked in his point 13 that “with an increasing population, the current proposal will remove a valuable community resource." That was in 1996. In the last five years, the local population has or will be significantly increased again, with the Queen Margaret Appartments development, the Oban Drive development, building on the old BBC site just off Queen Margaret Drive and the recent planning application on the site of the old North Kelvinside church on Kelbourne Street. No additional community resource provision has come with any of these developments.
Additional arguments in the Inquiry Reporter's rejection of the Miller Homes appeal have been overlooked by the planning authority in their response
- As noted above, the Reporter noted that significant recent building had taken place in the area with no open space compensation. This situation is exactly the same today – with the QM Apartments, the Oban Drive and BBC developments and the proposals in place for the old North Kelvinside church site.
- In his point 14, he notes that the proposed children's play area should not be viewed as compensation. He writes “Although it is suggested that the proposed children’s play facilities would be available for use by neighbourhood children, that cannot be guaranteed. If the new residents require to maintain the amenity areas, they could resent use by “outsiders” and difficulties could arise.” The Council is still using the argument of local space provision within the development as compensation. In a letter from the Chief Execute Annemarie O'Donnell to Patrick O'Grady MP dated 5th June 2015, she writes that "the application currently being considered does include a publically accessibly amenity and informal play area", and a councilor in the planning committee meeting on January 26th encouraged use of this area by the local community. This is empty rhetoric however, as the planning authority itself confirmed in the meeting that the space is private and therefore access cannot be guaranteed..
Overall, we do not understand how the Council or the planning authority deem it acceptable to build on this site. It has never been built on and has always served local educational and community needs. For 20 years, in the absence of Council management, the local community has worked tirelessly to both maintain the site and find creative ways for it to continue to serve as an educational and community resource. These are not random, temporary efforts. Instead, in this age of community empowerment, this is a continuous community engagement, self-funded, resulting in the creation of registered charities and, most recently, the submission of their own planning application in an attempt to end the repeated barrage of action against their wishes.
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