1 What’s it all about?
On 23 September 2011 Winkfield Parish Council (WPC) submitted an Application for a Certificate of Lawful Use for this site (11/00656/LDC). The Statutory period for the determination of Planning Applications is 8 weeks yet this was never determined and was eventually withdrawn on 17 August 2012, followed by the issue of an enforcement notice on 20 September 2012. This means that Park has been operating since May 2011 without Planning Consent.
On 11 October 2012 WPC submitted two new Planning Applications for the retention of the Playpark development in the Locks Ride Recreation Ground. Documents relating to these applications are published on the BFC Planning Portal together with statements of Objection and Support.
There is no doubt is that this is a well-equipped facility which has proved to be extremely popular with all those who visit the park and enjoy the attractions but what does not appear to be appreciated by these many visitors is that their enjoyment has been at the expense of the Residents.
There is a reluctance to accept that the residents have good reason for their complaints and this page attempts to put some of these points in perspective.
Our argument is not with the concept of the Playpark or the people who use the Playpark but with WPC for their failure to research the project adequately, their poor time management and failure to engage with the householders most affected.
As a result we now have a magnificent facility that is in the wrong place. In the process it has wasted a huge amount of Public resources and has caused a great deal of distress to a section of the community who are not prepared to allow themselves to be bullied by the system.
2 What do you expect from your Neighbour?
Respect and Consideration are probably fairly high on anyone’s list. In this situation, WPC are our neighbours and they have shown themselves to be bad ones. They have built a playpark just 10m from our front boundaries. Everyday throughout the summer, they encourage crowds of people, often in excess of 200 at any one time, to use their playpark and for obvious reasons, these visitors make a lot of noise.
How would you feel if your next-door neighbour did this to you?
If the Playpark had been built by a private individual how long do you think it would have been before it was closed down?
We have no quarrel with the people who use the Playpark but we have a right to challenge the reasons why this site was built in this particular location in the first place.
3 What happened to the First Application (11/00565/LDC)?
In January 2012, the officer assigned to this case submitted a report to the Planning committee which recommended refusal, the justification (taken from a FOI request) being as follows:
a) It is considered that its scale and large number of visitors and traffic it attracts means that it has become the dominant feature of the Locks Ride Playing Fields. Based upon the letters received from local residents it would appear that use of the play equipment occurs more often than the existing playing for sporting activities. As a result it is also questionable as to whether or not the play area is ancillary.
b) The applicant has also failed to demonstrate that the play equipment is “required” for the purposes of any “function” exercised by them on that land. It could be argued that the play equipment is not required or directly related to the function of the existing land. Unlike the uses cited in part (b), play equipment is not essential to the maintenance or improvement of the existing playing fields which already provide a means of recreation for all members of the community.
It has not been made clear why this recommendation by the Planning Officer was not accepted or what subsequent intervention took place to prevent the determination of this application over such a long period of time.
What is clear is that the dimensions of the development were not the primary concern of the Planning Officer rather that the development was neither “ancillary to” nor “required for” the established use of this site.
4 Outstanding Complaint with BFC regarding 11/00656/LDC
The irregular handling of this application triggered a complaint of mismanagement against BFC due to a number of factors, including the failure to determine this application within the statutory period of 8 weeks.
On 15 October 2012, at Stage 3 of the Complaint Process, the Director of Environment, Culture and Communities issued an apology and supplied a number of explanations. Reference was made to the renewed applications and further comment invited. The Complaint remains in abeyance pending determination of these renewed applications.
5 The Government Playbuilder Scheme
In 2009, funds were made available for the construction of a number of Play Facilities within the Borough. BFC established a Play Partnership Committee which held its first meeting on 18 June 2009 where details of the Playbuilder Scheme were presented to Local Councils and WPC were present.
5.1 Scheme management by Winkfield Parish Council
An examination of the Minutes of WPC suggests a tardy and disorganised approach to this project and invites investigation. The following comments are taken from Council Minutes.
|07.07.09||Project was first discussed by WPC. Minutes record that “updated report would be given to Council on 4 August”|
|04.08.09||Nothing reported at meeting on 4 August|
|Nothing reported at meeting in September|
|Nothing reported at meeting in October|
|3 11 09||Clerk gave update on project and advised that BFC have to place order for work by 11 Dec 2009. Presentation to WPC would be made on 10 Nov.|
|10.11.09||Presentation to WPC, resolution passed for construction of Playbuilder site on Locks Ride Playing Fields.|
|01.12.09||Playbuilder Scheme approved. Minutes report that “timeframe for putting necessary paperwork in hand is very tight”|
There is no record of any consultation with local residents during this time.
- Documents provided by BFC show that the scheme was published for tender on 25 March (GB003ZM5831)
- WPC state that they held a “consultation” meeting on 9 April. This was in the form of a Powerpoint Presentation which opened with the statement:
“Winkfield Parish Council have an agreement with Bracknell Forest Council to develop an area within Lock’s Ride within the Playbuilder Programme.
It is clear that by this date the specification for the development had been decided, thus rendering this meeting a Presentation rather than a Consultation.
5.2 Scheme management by Warfield Parish Council
It is revealing to compare the actions of Winkfield PC with those of Warfield PC. Their Meetings show a far more pro-active and timely management of the Scheme in which the views of the residents were respected and it was rejected. The following comments are taken from the Warfield Council Minutes.
|22.07.09||Project was first discussed by Council. Goddard Way under consideration, public Consultation form to be published on Council website.|
|23.09.09||Presentation to local residents to be arranged when the plans have been finalised.|
|21.10.09||Reported that BFC were reviewing tenders on 5 Nov|
|17.11.09||Public meeting with residents with 17 attendees who expressed reservations|
|14.12.09||Public meeting with residents with 37 attendees. Recorded that “In view of the strong opposition, consideration will now be given to an alternative site in Warfield”|
The residents of Winkfield Row were not afforded the same consideration as those of Warfield.
5.3 Elevation of Locks Ride Recreation Ground to a “Destination Site”
Extracts from BFC Play Partnership Minutes.
|23.11.09||WPC report to Play Partnership Committee that “Looking to make this a destinational site”|
|11.02.10||Play Partnership Minutes record that “The destination sites are Jocks Lane, Locks Ride and The Lookout. Group agreed to put more resources into these three sites|
By late November it is clear that the PlayBuilder concept for Locks Ride had been elevated to that of a “Destination Site”. This would be a significant change of use for which there is no reference of any serious consideration that Planning Consent might be required.
6 Reference Material provided for the Construction of Play Areas
The Fields in Trust (National Playing Fields Association) Guidance document “Planning and Design for Outdoor Sport and Play – 2008” provides guidance for the design and construction for all standards of play areas. It covers an exhaustive range of topics, defines different standards of Play Area and is the authoritative reference for projects of this type.
BFC Playbuilder and WPC Committee minutes make no mention of any reference to this document, which includes the following advice:
6.1 Destination Site
“The ‘destination’ playground is a play space within a key site, such as a park. It is aimed at attracting family and similar groups for longer visits. It tends to be larger than neighbourhood sites, have car parking facilities, a greater variety of fixed equipment and access to facilities such as cafes and public toilets.”
These criteria did not exist at Locks Ride, the shortcomings for which are now apparent. Indeed, the Management Plan (12/00806/FUL) now states an intention to provide increased parking facilities, refreshment facilities and additional toilets. According to the Guidance, this is the very standard that should have existed prior to development.
This further supports the recommendation of the Planning Officer who completed the original report (11/00656/LDC) in January 2012.
6.2 Neighbourhood Equipped Area for Play (NEAP)
For a lesser area, such as a NEAP, the document specification includes the following statement:
A buffer zone of 30 metres minimum depth normally separates the activity zone and the boundary of the nearest property containing a dwelling. A greater distance may be needed where purpose-built skateboarding facilities are required. Where these minimum distances apply, careful consideration needs to be given to:
1. The design of any means of enclosure, planting scheme and/or other physical features on the boundary of the residential property
2. The siting of equipment and features within the activity zone, to preclude opportunities for overlooking nearby gardens and dwellings and potential loss of privacy and creation of nuisance
For this development, the activity zone is a mere 10m distant from the boundaries of the dwellings on Locks Ride and Forest Road.
6.3 Relevance to Playbuilder Guidelines
The development strayed from the original concept of the Playbuilder Scheme which was to be a facility for 8-13 year olds. This age group is strikingly absent from the visitor demography.
7 Comparison of Applications 12/00806/FUL and 12/00807/LDC
At the outset it must be stated that applications 12/00806/FUL and 12/00807/LDC are essentially the same as 11/00656/LDC and that they relate to a development that was conceived and constructed as a single project.
7.1 Planning Standards
For the purposes of the new applications, the development has been split into two sections, with a separate Application for each part. The most significant differences between the old and new applications are that:
a) The bunds, which were not previously accounted for, are now included in the volume calculations for the new applications. Bearing in mind that if it were Permitted Development, the construction would be subject to a limit of 200m3, the following facts are of interest
Bund volume for 12/00806/FUL is listed as 182 m3
Bund volume for 12/00807/LDC is listed as 97.8 m3ct
This makes no allowance for the volumes occupied by the individual items of equipment.
b) The Watersplash and BBQ area (previously not included in 11/00565/LDC) now appear in 12/00806/LDC.
c) Volume calculations for the development have been revised and are now based on component dimensions rather than the physical dimensions of the individual structures.
Take for example, the pair of Zip wires, which are founded on an 8m wide bund at the Southern end, are 3.5m high and 33.1m long. Simple multiplication suggests an occupied volume of 926m3 whereas the applicant has listed it to be 5.34m3 (12/00807/LDC).
If WPC have interpreted the Planning Regulations in this way, what message does it give to the rest of the community? It fundamentally suggests that if you want to get away with a development that exceeds the normal conventions for permitted size, you do this:
- Do not apply for permission prior to construction.
- Do not tell your neighbours what you intend to do.
- Build it and hope to get away with it.
- When challenged, split it in two parts and claim that it is now below limits.
- Be inventive with your measurements. For example, assume that overall space taken up in the use of a structure does not necessarily count so that in this instance, if you were so inclined and were stuck with the limit of 200m3, you could squeeze 35 pairs of Zip wires into the plan and still come within limits.
This contentious standard of measurement is clearly open to challenge.
During the summer months of 2011 and 2012, an area on the Western boundary of the Recreation Ground was cordoned off for car-parking. This overflow parking space encloses an area of approximately .18 hectares and is a feature of the site from May to September. It is regularly occupied by 60 vehicles at any one time (often as many as 90) and is evidently essential for the operation of the playpark.
This is a change of use for a purpose not related to sporting activities and has not been included in application 12/00807/LDC.
8 Popularity of Existing Development
The site is undoubtedly well-equipped and has proved to be extremely popular with many families resident inside and outside of the Borough. But co-incidentally, it has caused great distress to the residents most affected by the site due to the proximity of the development to their homes.
Had an application had been submitted at the outset, all recognised planning attributes would have been examined, including the requirement for buffer zones for play areas (recommended by Fields in Trust) and the importance of visual and acoustic protection. Verbal statements have been made by Council Officials to the effect that had the extent of this total project been stated and all relevant factors properly evaluated at the start, Planning Permission would almost certainly not have been granted.
If estimates of visitor numbers had ever been considered, they have been wildly exceeded. Photographic evidence shows that these numbers regularly exceed 200 on fine days in the summer which again substantiates the initial assessment of the Planning Officer (11/00656/LDC) that the Playpark is now the primary reason for people to visit the site.
9 Letters of Support on Planning Portal
The BFC Planning Portal now includes a number of letters of support for these new applications. A number of respondents state that 3400 people have actively expressed support for this Project. This is further evidence that the Playpark is now the main attraction here and that the previously established use of the Fields for the enjoyment of Sporting activities is of secondary importance. Letters of support from outside the Borough also provide substance for this argument.
It should be also noted many of the support statements have been written from the perspective of a visitor rather than a resident and it is only to be expected that they might be positive.
Comment has been made that the activity generated by the playpark is no different from that of the cricketers and footballers. Residents, with a far better perspective, would disagree because football, although noisy, is never a problem because it takes place in the winter months; cricket is never noisy.
The noise generated by the play park in the summer months is of an entirely different nature. It occurs regardless of weather and is at its peak on fine days when adjacent homeowners have their windows open and like to spend time in their gardens. The activity zone of the Playpark is 10m from the boundary of these dwellings and in consideration of the type of equipment, the numbers of visitors and the age demography of the users, it is indefensible to suggest that this does not constitute a noise nuisance.
10 Noise Nuisance
Since the site was opened in May 2011 it has proved to be a continual noise nuisance to the immediate residents and a severe detriment to their reasonable use and enjoyment of their homes. Independent Noise Surveys were carried out in 2011 and 2012 which substantiate these allegations but since the matter is still sub-judice it is not appropriate to comment further.
- It is incumbent on the Planning Committee to judge these applications in an objective and unbiased manner.
- The fact that the developer is a Public Body does not detract from the duty of care of that organisation towards its neighbours. If anything it requires a heightened sense of awareness of such responsibilities.
- BFC played a key role in the management of the Play Builder Project and it is further stated that “developments were undertaken by BFC on behalf of WPC (12/00807/LDC). This involvement must be not allowed to obstruct an objective assessment of these applications.
- The fact that public money has been spent does not justify its continued existence if it may be shown that the development was falsely conceived and mismanaged.
- There is no argument that the play facilities now available at this site are extremely popular with visitors.
- There are already 2 Destination Parks (The Lookout and Jocks Lane) within 20 mins drive of all residents of the Borough (the 20 mins rule being another recommendation from Fields in Trust) – is this to be another?
- The use of the Playpark severely detracts from established summer sports such as cricket and softball.
- There is no doubt that the residents living adjacent to this site find it to be a nuisance and a severe detriment to their reasonable use and enjoyment of their homes.
- There is no doubt that rights of the immediate residents have not been properly respected
- There is no doubt that the greater the popularity of the site, particularly if encouraged by increased parking, refreshments and toilets, the greater will be the disruption caused to the residents.
This statement only scratches the surface of the many questions that should have been asked at the time this project was conceived.
The last thing we want to do is to inflame an already heated situation but all of these very real issues illustrate the importance of reference to established Planning Protocols to ensure that the rights of all affected parties are protected in the way that the Law intends. The overriding impression here is that, as a result of inadequate research and poor planning, a considerable amount of Public Money has been spent in building a well-equipped but wrongly-located facility.
If errors have been made they must be recognised. In this respect, Fields in Trust again offers the following advice (4.6.14): “Spaces which do not meet the Benchmark Quality Standard, will need improvement. Spaces that are in the wrong place will need to be considered for relocation”
The responsibility for this politically embarrassing situation rests solely upon the shoulders of Winkfield Parish Council, not just because they are a Public Body but because they are property owners and as such they have a responsibility to their neighbours for the manner in which they use their property or permit the use thereof.
They have abused this responsibility and it is not acceptable to expect the adjoining residents to have to suffer the consequences of this misconceived and mismanaged development which has from the outset been a severe detriment to the reasonable use and enjoyment of their homes.
It is furthermore disappointing that the many supporters of this Playpark seem to be so ready to identify this disadvantaged minority group as the bad guys rather than to recognise the true culprits to be the instigators of the scheme, namely Winkfield Parish Council.
No one should be in any doubt that there are many people awaiting the outcome of this matter which, if not determined correctly, will undoubtedly invoke deeper scrutiny.
Written on behalf of WINKFIELD ROW RESIDENTS’ ASSOCIATION