I am writing with reference to the recent suggestion that Wakefield College’s Thornes Park campus could be replaced with a housing development under plans to sell the site and use the money to expand educational facilities in the city centre.
When this issue was raised in 2010, the Leader of the Council, Peter Box, said in the Express that he had: “heard the views of residents in the Thornes Park area and they are quite clear” and, as a result, would “support their opposition to a new housing development on the site.”
No room for misunderstanding there you would think and I assume that Coun Box was speaking having regard to any relevant planning or other legal criteria which were in play at that time; to the council’s stance as owners of the land which any developer would need to purchase to access the presently landlocked site from Horbury and/or Thornes Roads; and his position as Leader of the controlling group on the council.
I was surprised, therefore, that the housing suggestion re-emerged last month through the comments of the council’s deputy leader regarding the expectations of the College to “make a lot of money” from the sale of the site, but that it would be “controversial because people don’t want to see houses being built on the park.”
There would be no controversy I would have thought if Coun Box maintains his high profile stance of 2010 and so I, and a lot of other people, are confused about where the council now stands.
I am sure that the plans for a university site in Wakefield are to be applauded and I wish the college every success, but this does not mean, of course, that objective planning considerations can be put to one side because of the college’s need to raise money to expand. The two issues are entirely separate and, at best, a red herring.
If Coun Box stands by what he said in 2010 then, provided all relevant planning considerations are adhered to objectively, the council might conceivably take the decision to refuse planning permission for housing on the grounds that it would not be an appropriate development in this setting.
It would then be for the college to decide whether to appeal. Alternatively, if that objective consideration results in planning permission for housing being the correct decision in law, then it would still be open to the council to refuse to sell the land required to access the site. Either way, the ball is in the council’s court.
Personally. I agree with views previously expressed locally by The Friends of Clarence, Holmefield and Thornes Parks that any housing development would be inappropriate and would destroy the essential character of this valuable green space in an increasingly built up environment.
Perhaps Coun Box would issue an unequivocal statement, through the columns of this newspaper, referring to what he said in 2010 and clarifying his position in 2014 so that those who are in favour of housing and those who are against know where he stands and what happens next.
I recall that Mary Creagh MP opposed the housing proposal in 2010 and I am sure we would all welcome her views on this latest twist, together with the opinions of our locally elected councillors.
In the meantime, can I suggest that anyone who is opposed to the housing suggestion should write to Coun Box so that he is in no doubt that the strength of local feeling which was expressed in 2010 still remains.