What a fine mess there appears to be on a new housing estate in Barnt Green. First, a public right of way is believed to have been blocked by locked gates at either end – and now a large portion of land designated for public use also seems to have been rendered inaccessible by the gates.
When developers come along with plans to cover green fields with roads and houses, they naturally want to be welcomed by the local community. Often, this is forced upon them anyway by the local planning authority as part of the deal to get the right to make a lot of money building new homes.
These are in the form of “106” agreements, by which a developer might, for example, offer some of the land they are building on as public open space, or they make a contribution towards local facilities.
It seems that somewhere along the line in the long planning wrangle that finally led to the creation of the 88-home “Foxhills” estate, between Fiery Hill and Cherry Hill roads in Barnt Green, a public footpath linking the two roads was included in the plans.
Presumably this was done to make the development more acceptable to the local community – a community that had for more than a decade been campaigning against any building on the fields there.
And it’s a great idea, too; enabling villagers to walk directly to the main entrance of Barnt Green Cricket Club without having to walk up or down Cherry Hill Road, a narrow lane with no footpath.
The installation of locked gates, with keypads and codes known only to the residents of the five houses between them, was already under investigation by planning officers.
And it now turns out, according to a local district and parish councillor, that almost half of the public space designated under the 106 process is between those locked gates and inaccessible to the public for whose use it is intended.
Clearly, if the planning approval includes provision of the public right of way and access to the public open space, it is the planning authority’s duty to enforce this provision.
But what if you are the people who have bought one of the five houses now stuck in the middle after, presumably, paying top dollar to live behind locked gates?
It might have been possible to find another route for the right of way, but how can the public open space be moved?
And if this can happen on an 88-home site, just think of the consequences of 10,000 to 15,000 new homes if “Barntchurch” was ever built.