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Owlthorpe Fields: Controversial housing development recommended for approval

A decision will be made tomorrow on a controversial housing project that campaigners say will lead to the destruction of recently re-wilded green space in Sheffield.

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The site at Owlthorpe Fields. Photo by Stephen Lister.

Update: On 2 June councillors on the Planning Committee refused the Owlthorpe Fields application.

National housebuilder Avant Homes has applied to build 74 new houses in a plot of land next to Owlthorpe Surgery, near Crystal Peaks shopping centre.

The site is currently owned by Sheffield City Council and has been earmarked for housing since the 1960s. The proposed development is on greenfield land, meaning it has not previously been built on.

"The development is going to affect woodland, ancient trees, a wildlife site and an ancient hedgerow because they're building right up to it," Claire Baker of Owlthorpe Fields Action Group told Now Then.

The group also have concerns about increased traffic, air pollution and pressure on local services. They say that infrequent bus connections and Supertram overcrowding means that residents will be forced to drive, and that this undermines the developer's claims that this is a sustainable development.

"There's lots of reasons why we think there are better sites to be built on at the moment than this," said Baker. "I accept the need for housing but Sheffield is an industrial city and it has a number of developable sites, and the Council's own policy is to develop brownfield sites first."

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The Owlthorpe Fields site, with affordable housing units marked with red asterisks.

The proposed development is on one of three adjoining sites which have all been earmarked for housing in the city's Local Plan. The Action Group say that because this plot is being sold and developed in isolation, it lacks the amenities that would be expected if all three sites were considered together.

Local Labour MP Clive Betts has also objected to the application, saying that while he is in favour of housing development on the site in principle, the proposed scheme has "a number of significant defects."

As well as backing ecological concerns raised by Friends of the Earth and the Wildlife Trust, Betts also expressed disappointment at the quality of the Avant Homes proposal.

"I believe that a housing scheme on a site as sensitive as this should be an absolutely top quality scheme, should be beneficial in every single respect and this scheme clearly does not do that," he wrote.

Although the proposal includes 15 units of affordable housing, 13 of these have been separated from the rest of the scheme. Betts wrote that affordable housing should be "integrated with the whole of the housing development, not segregated and pushed at the back of the scheme like some unwanted intrusion."

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The site at Owlthorpe Fields. Photo by Stephen Lister.

According to the planning officers' report recommending the approval of the application, the developer argued that the affordable housing provision would be "easier to manage" if grouped together. No further explanation is provided, and Avant Homes did not respond to our request for comment.

Baker says that the site, which is currently used by local walkers, has "come into its own" during the pandemic.

"It's been a source of solace for a lot of people," she said. "There's no other municipal park in south east Sheffield and there's no real open space other than this."

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Details of the proposed new development.

As of 1 June, of the 274 comments that had been made on the application by members of the public, two were supportive and 272 were objections.

Despite these objections, planning officers at Sheffield City Council have recommended that councillors on the Planning Committee approve the scheme tomorrow, saying that "the planning benefits significantly outweigh the biodiversity, landscape, amenity and highway impacts."

Avant Homes have been approached for comment.

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