Save Lion Farm Fields

Lion Farm Playing Fields : 19 hectares of priceless green space, situated close to junction 2 of the M5

Background:

In December of 2012 developer Jeremy Knight-Adams handed over a large sum of money to Sandwell council, believed to be in the region of £250,000,

– in return for this he was granted an exclusive option to proceed with the purchase, and then ‘concrete over’ of Lion Farm Playing Fields.

Initial proposals were to turn the fields into a ‘high end designer outlet village’, subject to a detailed planning application being submitted and approved, by ‘Autumn 2018’.

It was claimed, and is still being claimed, that as as result, “£200m of investment could be attracted to the area, and 2000 jobs might be created”.

“And pigs might fly” (hasn’t actually been claimed, but would be slightly more believable)

Sandwell council also claim that “”Details of the scheme were again in the public domain when a further cabinet report proposing the next steps was approved in November 2017”

The truth is very few details of the proposed Lion Farm development were revealed to the public, in the almost six years which followed the initial purchase of the option to develop (when it was cunningly hidden under the title ‘Junction 2 Regeneration’)

– ‘details’ were pretty much limited to “where the development is to take place”,

– accompanied by the above wild, and frankly ridiculous claim, that it “could attract £200m of investment, and create 2000 new jobs”.

 

In May of 2012, in association with Asda Foundation, who it’s understood made a donation towards the cost,

– Sandwell council agreed to put part of the Fields in trust, to replace land in trust at the site of what is now Portway Leisure Centre. A plaque was duly erected in the pavilion on the Fields to celebrate the event.

The fields were preserved for future generations to enjoy, or so they said in public. In private, something very different appears to have been unfolding.

Just six months later, in December of 2012, SMBC provisionally agreed to sell the Fields, in their entirety, to developer Jeremy Knight-Adams.

Avoiding such ‘trivialities’ as putting the fields out to tender, in order to obtain the best price for a publicly owned asset, they instead took £245,000 from Jeremy Knight-Adams, and in return granted him an exclusive option to develop.

(Although it appears Knight-Adams didn’t actually hand the money over until the following year, 2013).

It is understood that the option purchase was originally for one year, and was then extended to two. How it became effectively seven years, (and counting, there appears in reality to be no time limit) …no one will say.  Nor will they reveal if any further payments have been made.


So, after lying dormant for a number of years, who knows why, or how,

 – plans to build ‘posh shops’ on top of Lion Farm fields resurfaced at the end of 2017, and according to a Press release a few months later, fully detailed ones, would soon be submitted to Sandwell council (according to local Press, by ‘Autumn 2018’).

 

In early 2018 a small team leafletting the local area quickly established that many local residents were still completely unaware that the 19 hectares of vital green space that they live extremely close to… in some cases ‘across the road from’, might soon be concreted over.

Most people believed that the development had been abandoned, indeed, one local councillor assured us that ‘there was no way it would ever happen’… but that if it did look like it might, he would vehemently oppose it.  He was reelected shortly afterwards, and has subsequently voiced absolutely no objection to the proposed development whatsoever, at least in public.

Another local councillor assured us that she would oppose the development ‘unless it is purely high end outlets’… as was being promised at the time.  She is now Council Leader, and seemingly has no further comment to make on the development.

Sandwell Council now has a new Chief Executive, after the previous occupant ‘quit the job in unknown circumstances’.

The role of Chief Executive carries a salary of almost £150,000, yet apparently only one person applied. This may possibly be related to the fact that the position was never advertised.  This is the way that Sandwell Council likes to operate. And then they wonder why locally the Council Offices are referred to as ‘the Kremlin’ (!)

https://www.expressandstar.com/news/local-hubs/sandwell/2020/01/16/new-sandwell-council-chief-executive-david-stevens-was-only-candidate-to-apply/

The decision to raise awareness, and to do everything possible to save the Fields from, given the state of the retail trade in the UK currently, being pointlessly destroyed… was made soon afterwards, and the campaign began in earnest.

“Save Lion Farm Fields” first public meeting was at a local church on Sunday 22nd April, and was very well attended, with 68 people turning out, the vast majority being extremely concerned local residents.

The Black Country is synonymous with heavy industry, and in particular chain-making, local companies made chains for the anchors of some of the world’s most famous ships, including the Titanic, and a chain appears on the Black Country flag…

– it was clear that everyone who attended believed that concreting over Lion Farm fields would be ‘a Titanic mistake’.

 

We held an ARP (Awareness Raising and Protest) event:

At 6:30pm, Wed 27th June 2018, in Newbury Lane, meeting just outside the Post Office (Post Code: B69 1HE),

– we invited local residents (and anyone passionate about saving them)

 to form a HUMAN CHAIN across the entrance to Lion Farm Playing Fields.

 

*** The event was a HUGE SUCCESS, with approximately 200 people turning out to demonstrate their support for, not just keeping Lion Farm Playing Fields, but improving them, and cementing their place at the heart of the community… for generations to come ***

https://www.expressandstar.com/news/politics/2018/06/29/lion-farm-human-chain-demo-against-shopping-centre-plans/

The full planning application did not materialise in ‘Autumn 2018’.  It was then promised for ‘just before Christmas 2018’, then ‘just after Christmas 2018’, and then…. all went quiet.

In October 2019 a new promise appeared in the local Press

https://www.expressandstar.com/news/local-hubs/sandwell/oldbury/2019/10/29/plans-being-finalised-for-200m-shopping-centre-on-lion-farm-fields/

According to this article developer Jeremy Knight-Adams will submit full plans “within months”.  Note: How many months is not specified.

*** Three months later, mid January 2020, there is still no sign or mention of exactly when the plans will be lodged with Sandwell Council ***

The newspaper article simply accepts the promise of plans from Knight-Adams ‘within months’.  This is not acceptable.  They may as well say ‘within years’. It’s already been more than seven years since they first paid almost a quarter of a million pounds to have the exclusive rights to develop Lion Farm Playing Fields… for one year, with an option to extend by a year.

For more than seven years those living in close proximity to the fields have had to live with the uncertainty of having a huge development ‘plonked on their doorstep’.

The nature of this development has changed dramatically since it was first touted as ‘High End Outlets’, it is now effectively ‘a new Star City’:

“Around 90 outlet shops and a range of cafes and restaurants in a calm, relaxed environment

100,000 sq. ft all-under-one-roof interactive entertainment complex for ‘big day out’ leisure activities
A multi-use community hub, providing space for a crèche and training facilities, especially focused on developing skills and opening pathways into employment for local people

A new Black Country Tourist Information Centre and exhibition space

Two all-weather 3G multi-sport pitches with access to changing facilities
A multiplex cinema
A new gym
A new hotel and associated facilities

Approximately 2,425 car parking spaces (which are 12% larger than normal)

Walking routes, public spaces and trim trails around the site”

Notice no longer any mention of ‘high end outlets’, instead ‘a range of cafes and restaurants’, ranging from McDonalds to Pizza Hut ?

This huge complex is not being proposed ‘out of town’, in a disused industrial estate, it’s being proposed on top of 12 football pitches, right next to a large housing estate, where roads are already highly congested, and air pollution is at high levels.  Not that this clearly bothers the developer or Sandwell council.

Sandwell council and Jeremy Knight-Adams apparently ‘refute the claim that this deal has been surrounded in secrecy’, right from the very outset, back in 2012,

 – yet neither will provide answers to the following very simple and straightforward questions:

Eleven questions which both SMBC and J K-A are currently flatly refusing to answer:

i) Why was no attempt was made to put the potential purchase of these fields ‘out to tender’, in order to obtain the best value for local taxpayers?

ii) How was the developer Jeremy Knight-Adams selected ?

iii) The initial option to develop was granted for a year, with a potential one year extension, back in December 2012,

– how did it get extended, as is now being reported, until ‘Autumn 2018’, has any extra money been paid for this ?

iv) Has a sale price been agreed for the land which constitutes Lion Farm Playing Fields, if so, what is it ?

v) Why are Sandwell council refusing to allow the deed with details about the agreement between the council and Fields in Trust (eg how long trust protection lasts)

…to be placed into the public domain?

vi) Around 12 football playing fields will be lost at Lion Farm, with a further two at Londonderry, they claim to be ‘reproviding’ the lost pitches, so why are they flatly refusing to discuss this ‘reprovision’ with the organisers of the local football league?

vii) It has been stated that considerable infrastructure changes will be needed to support the potential development, what are they, and who will pay for them ?

(roads in the area are already serious congested, any new work will not be able to start until M5 Junction 2 Oldbury Viaduct work is complete in 2020, there is also now a huge amount of work planned to take place on Birchley Island, is the new development tied it with this ?)

viii) Where is the evidence that any ‘high end retailers’ actually want to come to Oldbury?  (Mostly they currently seem to be leaving!)

– if there are retailers wishing to base themselves in Oldbury, why have they not located themselves on the site next to Sandwell and Dudley train station, known as ‘the Junction’, a brownfield site where full planing permission was granted for outlets two years ago, but nothing appears to have happened since ?

ix) A similar development is already underway in Cannock, ‘Mill Green’, the council there extracted lots of commitments from the developer:

– town centre improvements, local railway station expansion, free wi-fi provision, a new Retails and Skills Academy, to name but a few,

– what benefits to the local community have Sandwell council extracted from Jeremy Knight-Adams?   (Seemingly zero, zip, zilch, “diddly squat” ?)

https://www.expressandstar.com/news/local-hubs/staffordshire/cannock-chase/2018/02/23/mill-green-designer-village-work-starts-on-building-115m-shopping-destination/

The ‘Benefits’ page of the new development web site is quite frankly laughable…

Two high-quality all weather 3G multi-sports pitches, suitable for all-year-round use (There are many of these locally already)

A dedicated multi-use community hub (with locations for a training and skills centre, a crèche, an exhibition space and function/meeting rooms)   (Sounds rather like the Portway Lifestyle Centre, already on the site :

https://fis.sandwell.gov.uk/kb5/sandwell/directory/service.page?id=WElxrKl_kdk)


A children’s playground  (SERIOUSLY ???)

Trim trail
and dog-walking paths  (Concrete over 19 hectares of green fields, to provide dog walking paths ?)

Outdoor events venue  (A large number of events are held on the Playing Fields currently)
Schools and community access programmes for the multi-leisure venue

x) What work has been done to assess the environmental impact of concreting over Lion Farm fields ?

– these fields have been identified as a very important ‘Wildlife Corridor’, there is lots of evidence that air pollution levels are already dangerously high close to motorways in Sandwell, and there will likely be a greatly increased flood risk.

What consideration has been given to these issues ?

xi) Have all local brownfield sites been fully considered and eliminated as potential alternatives (as promised by West Mids Metro Mayor Andy Street),

– if so, where is the evidence for this ?

 

There are a whole host of reasons why attempting to build ‘high end outlets’ on Lion Farm Playing Fields is very obviously a really bad idea,

– please click the ‘Reasons not to concrete over Lion Farm Playing Fields’ tab for a summary of these (hover your cursor over this item in the menu at the top of the screen)

– and write to your local councillor, your MP…. the silent-on-this-issue Rt Hon John Spellar, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (current Rt Hon James Brokenshire), or anyone you think might be able to help “Save Lion Farm Fields”.

 

Please also follow the progress of our campaign on Twitter and Facebook:

Twitter:  @LoveLionFarm,    Facebook:  Save Lion Farm Fields (public group)