Protest over charity's plan to build '24-hour call centre' in the centre of Wakefield's historic Thornes Park

Residents staged a protest over proposals to build a ’24-hour call centre’ in Wakefield’s Thornes Park.

By Tony Gardner
Wednesday, 6th July 2022, 10:19 am
Updated Wednesday, 6th July 2022, 10:21 am

More than 200 people have objected to “devastating” plans which they claim could pave the way for the historic park becoming home to a round-the-clock business centre.

Wakefield-based charity Penny Appeal is seeking “flexible” planning permission to transform the former Wakefield College campus site to include offices and community facilities.

Members of the park’s Friends group staged a protest at the park entrance as councillors carried out a site visit ahead of a meeting to decide on the plan.

More than 200 people have objected to plans which they claim could pave the way for Thornes Park becoming a home to a round-the-clock call centre.

A report to Wakefield Council’s highways and planning committee recommends that the application be approved.

Michael Graham, councillor for Wakefield West ward, said: “I think it is going to be absolutely devastating for the park.

“It is Wakefield’s biggest green space and we don’t want a business centre at the heart of it.

The Penny Appeal charity is seeking “flexible” planning permission to transform the former Wakefield College campus site to include offices and community facilities.

“The application is so vague and it leaves the door open to get bigger and bigger.

“We could end up with a 24-hour call centre in the park.

“We hold many great events in the park and we can kiss goodbye to them if this happens.

“I urge all councillors to vote this down.

Penny Appeal Adeem Younis says the proposed new facilities in Thornes will benefit everyone in the local community.

“We have got hundreds of objections from local people.

“We want the site to be used but we want it to be appropriate.”

Penny Appeal, founded in 2009 to deliver aid to impoverished countries, intend to use the site as its headquarters.

The charity bought the buildings from Wakefield College four years ago and say the plan will be “mutually beneficial” to themselves and to park users.Penny Appeal seek “flexible” permission for a scheme which would include offices, a café and buildings for community use.

An existing theatre space on the site would be retained.

A report to councillors states that work is also being carried out to enable the site to be occupied by the Bishop of Wakefield, the charity Open Country and Wakefield Bridge Club

The report states: “There is a desire from the applicant to keep the future uses of the remainder of the building flexible in order that the use of the building remains viable.”

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Thornes Park is registered as a Grade II listed historic park and garden.

The listing description refers to it as “a good example of an urban municipal park of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century where the

layout survives almost intact.”

Ian Deighton, chair of Friends of Clarence, Holmfield and Thornes Parks (CHaT), said: “We have been trying to protect the park and make improvements for more than 20 years.

“We have invested a lot of time and money and we want to ensure that is safeguarded.

“Since lockdown, the park has been used more than ever.

“It is a real asset on the doorstep.

“The problem with the application is we just do not know what it is going to allow.

“It wants to be ‘flexible’ to allow tenants in and out but we do not know what it is going to be used for.

“We could end up with 100 sole traders in there.

“They call it flexible but we call it vague.”

“The site is not just going to be used by Penny Appeal.

“If they move out of there in six months, what will this massive site be used for?”

Recommending the scheme for approval, the report states: “The local planning authority is required to consider the planning application as presented and cannot forecast what might or might not change in the future.

“On, balance and taking all material considerations into account, it is considered that the proposed uses would not cause significant harm and would not detract from the community asset of the park.”

Ahmed Bostan, director of marketing and communications for Penny Appeal, said: “Our founder, Adeem Younis, is himself a Wakefield lad.

“He is very proud of Wakefield and the charities that have been created for Wakefield.

“The facilities are to benefit all in the local community.”

Councillors will consider the proposals at a meeting on Thursday (July 7).