Lancaster school secures right to playing field use - but fence plan deferred amidst local objections

Moorside Primary School pupils currently have access to a fenced-off field for PE lessons
Moorside Primary School pupils currently have access to a fenced-off field for PE lessons

There is uncertainty over future public access to a playing field in Lancaster after a primary school was given the go-ahead to use it for PE lessons.

There is uncertainty over future public access to a playing field in Lancaster after a primary school was given the go-ahead to use it for PE lessons.

Moorside Primary School applied for the land on Barton Road to be converted from recreational to educational use, because it fears it may lose exclusive rights to a separate fenced-off field where its sporting activities currently take place.

That area - which has been used by the school for the past decade - is the subject of a legal wrangle over whether it should be classed as a so-called ‘town green’. The Supreme Court is due to make a final decision on granting the special status - which Lancashire County Council, the landowner, has unsuccessfully opposed twice in recent years.

If the authority’s objections are dismissed for a third time, the fencing will have to be removed from the land - and it will then become fully accessible to the public once again for the first time in ten years.

“Safeguarding of pupils must be at the heart of every decision a school takes,” headteacher Roger Shone told the county council’s development control committee. “To allow children to do PE on public land is at odds with that requirement.”

More than 130 objections were lodged against the proposal for a reclassification of the Barton Road field, together with an application to erect a 2.1m fence around half of the site. But the request for fencing was deferred just minutes before the meeting began and the committee heard that the school wanted to “open up a dialogue with the community”.

Members did approve the change of use application after hearing assurances that the school wanted to work with locals to allow continued access to the site “outside of school hours”.

However, now that the land use category has been changed, planning rules would allow the school to put up a fence of up to 2m in height without seeking further planning permission, if it chose to do so.

Several residents spoke out against the backstop plan for the Barton Road land, drawn up in the event that the Supreme Court confirms town green status for the field currently used by the school. Clive Shelley told the committee that restricting access to the open space on Barton Road would be “an affront to local democracy”.

“Nobody has any dispute with children’s need to play safely, [but] the area concerned has been maintained by the local population - who have litter-picked and confronted anti-social behaviour. That shows the closeness people feel to the land,” Mr. Shelley said.

Lancaster City Council also objected to the original proposal on the basis that it would “prevent informal recreational use and restrict public access to a designated outdoor sports facility and [area of] open space”.

But a parent of one of Moorside’s pupils told the meeting that there was “no settled view in the community” over the plans.

“For any group to say that they represent the community is incorrect,” Tom Ripley said. “If there is an option for using Barton Road, you have to keep that in your pocket - otherwise, where will the children have to do their sport?”

County Cllr Erica Lewis, in whose Lancaster South East division the school is based, said after the meeting: “It is welcome that the County Council has finally recognised that discussion with the community is the way forward. This was, of course, what the residents wanted years ago when Moorside Field was originally fenced.”

“I will now be working hard to ensure that this is a meaningful process that addresses the needs of residents from all of the areas surrounding both sets of fields, as well as the pupils of Moorside.”