Victory for campaigners as housing plans for Sunderland's West Park are dropped

Proposals to build homes on West Park have been dropped
Proposals to build homes on West Park have been dropped

Controversial proposals to build new homes on a Green Belt site in Sunderland have been dropped.

West Park, off Durham Road in East Herrington, was one of 15 possible sites identified for development in Sunderland City Council's draft Core Strategy and Development Plan, which looks at jobs, business growth, transport links and housing needs in the city until 2033.

Residents at a packed meeting to discuss the plans last year

Residents at a packed meeting to discuss the plans last year

More than 5,000 people had their say on-line and at a series of consultation events across the city last year, resulting in a number of changes to the final draft, which goes to the council’s Cabinet committee at the end of May.

A campaign was launched to save West Park, with Durham Road lined by protest signboards.

England football captain Jordan Henderson, marathon runner Patrick Martin and Olympic medal-winning boxer Tony Jeffries, who all grew up in the area, were among those backing the fight.

Former Black Cats midfielder Henderson said: "I have great memories of my time living in Herrington, and along with my mates spent many happy hours playing football in the park as a youngster and honing the skills that have helped to take me to where I am today.

"I feel that it would be an absolute tragedy if such a beautiful, well-used space that so many people enjoy for recreation and sport was ever to be lost.

"It would alter the whole ‘feeling’ of an area that so many of us have a great affection for."

Tony Jeffries added: “I was shocked to learn that there are plans to possibly build on West Park as I used to live in Herrington, and spent a lot of time in that park.

"I used to go there with my mates every autumn to collect conkers when we were kids, and I would do runs in the park when I was training for fights, including periods prior to the Olympics in 2008 where I won a bronze medal.

"I will never forget where I come from and West Park is a gorgeous spot that I will always have great memories of. I am firmly behind the campaign for it to remain as a popular public space enjoyed by so many people."

Key issues in the draft plan centred on the Green Belt, gypsy and travellers’ sites, housing density and city centre growth.

Major changes include reducing the number of development sites from 15 to 11. The sites that are no longer proposed to be removed from the Green Belt are West Park, Glebe House Farm, Offerton, and Peareth Hall, Springwell. The plan also proposes to designate open countryside and Settlement Breaks to protect them from inappropriate development.

Commenting on the decision to remove West park from the plan, local resident Tom Lynn said: "There was a lot of anxiety about it.

"It is such a nice space and if you start building on spaces like that, it is going to be everywhere."

The decision was a victory for people power, he said, and proof of the importance of campaigning.

"There were a couple of people who said 'There's no point signing anything, they have made their minds up.'

"We got some high-profile support and that really helped to bring in people's interest."

Campaigner Leon Cowley added: "Everybody involved is really pleased - it is fantastic news.

"We are looking to keep the momentum going and build it up to get a Friends of the Park group going.

"They used to use it for fairs and county shows - we want to get back to that and make it a focus for the community."

The first draft mentioned three potential stop-over sites for gypsies but none has been identified in the final draft. Instead the council will be progressing an unauthorised encampment policy.

The plan has reduced the numbers of homes to be built from 768 a year to 745 a year. Ninety per cent of growth will be in the existing urban area. The city is ranked in the top five per cent of local authorities for the quality of the living environment, and 91% of residents are satisfied with their current accommodation.

There will be a strong hot food takeaway policy for new hot food takeaways to address the large number of such businesses in the city, which will seek to balance the range of shops, strengthen the city centre, and boost healthy food choices for residents.

A detailed feedback report from the consultations of the first draft plan will be published on-line at the City Council website during the next consultation, due to start on June 15.

It will set out the range of views received during the consultation and summarise how these have been taken into account in the final version of the draft Plan.

City council leader Coun Graeme Miller said: "Sunderland’s Local Plan will shape the city for the next decade and beyond. We have a fantastic city, and the plan will create far-reaching opportunities for people who live and work here. We have challenging targets to reach and these will impact everyone across the city.

"We will carefully manage the development of the city as an attractive and sustainable place to live, putting a high quality of life, community wellbeing and local character to the forefront for generations to come."

The Local Plan aims to deliver 13,410 new homes needed in Sunderland by 2033, while minimising any negative impact on the environment and local amenity. It will also seek to provide at least 95 hectares of land to help create and support jobs.

Transport links will be improved with new strategic road infrastructure. The Plan backs the Metro expansion in Sunderland.

All Local Planning Authorities have a statutory duty to prepare a Local Plan. Once adopted, the Local Plan will be the starting point for determining planning applications. It will set a clear strategy for bringing land forward to address needs in line with the presumption in favour of sustainable development.