Bid to save playing fields gains cross-party support

Birmingham residents have gained cross-party support in a long-standing campaign to save their playing fields from developers.

The Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, Yardley Labour MP Jess Phillips and Liberal Democrat Yardley East Ward Councillor Deborah Harries have all pledged to oppose plans by Persimmon Homes to build 87 homes on the land on Barrows Lane in Yardley, which is currently managed by Sport for Life International on behalf of Central England Co-operative Ltd.

The backing follows new claims of “underhand tactics” by Persimmon Homes to gain building permission at a third attempt, with residents condemning the house builder’s latest proposals for a development – to be marketed as Barrows Grove – for being “misleading” and “trampling over” their concerns.

Yardley residents have been campaigning for more than seven years to retain the Barrows Lane sports ground on land that was originally gifted to the local community by the Barrows family in 1920 under a covenant for the then-Birmingham Co-operative Society to act as the site’s guardian. A similar plan to build on the site in the mid-1980s was rejected by Birmingham City Council after it caused local outrage.

The playing fields, where all ages were able to play healthy games and Birmingham City football stars like Craig Gardner and Darren Carter first developed their skills, have been closed for organised sport since 2014.

The fields were featured in a film in 1967 produced by Oxfam showing a Co-op women’s football team playing on the fields, not long after a ban on women’s football imposed in 1921 was finally lifted:

Football clubs for young men and women that have approached Sport for Life International with an interest to use and help manage the fields all claim to have been rebuffed or ignored.

Fay Goodman, Chair of Yardley Community Protection Society, said: “Persimmon have been using underhand tactics including a programme of managed decline to portray our land as unwanted and unsuitable, and been misleading in their intentions.

“They claim in their new promotional literature and their website for Barrows Grove ( that the Football Association have said that the pitches are ‘unusable’, yet the FA have denied ever being approached.

“Persimmon also state that they plan to find a replacement 3G sports pitch at Waverley Studio College ‘a short distance from Barrows Lane’ and that this would be open to local sports teams. This pitch would be in Bordesley Green, which isn’t in either the local ward of Yardley East or the Parliamentary Constituency of Yardley, and so would be of no benefit to the people of Yardley.”

Fay added: “Because of the vehement opposition of our community, Persimmon have already reduced the number of houses proposed from 110 to 87 to deliver ‘a green corridor’ that would provide a wildlife space for the land’s rare indigenous slow worm. This would still impact adversely on the habitat of a protected species and other wildlife including, bats, hedgehogs and tawny owls.

“Persimmon claim they are improving the environment, but they are only attempting to mitigate the worst excesses of their proposals. Their proposals will reduce our limited green space and increase already serious traffic congestion.”

In urging Birmingham City Council to reject Persimmon’s plans, residents have pointed to the Euro 22-winning success of the England Lionesses in inspiring more girls to play football and the Council’s own Commonwealth Games legacy promise of boosting investment through green growth, developing programmes to improve health and wellbeing, and bringing communities together.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, commenting on the proposals for Barrows Lane, said: “As Mayor, I’m committed to tackling health inequalities right across our region. Sites like these are crucial to tackling such inequalities by providing local residents with ready access to a space for exercise and recreation.

He added: “Throughout my time in office, we have always sought to protect the greenbelt and green field land by unlocking derelict brownfield sites for development. That’s exactly the approach that should be taken here so that we can keep open space intact.”

Fay Goodman said: “Since the mid-1980s the people of Yardley, along with local football clubs, sports organisations, and community representatives, have fought fiercely to protect our fields not only for sport but also for biodiversity, climate change, public health and air quality reasons.

“There are more than enough brownfield sites in the region available for building new homes without having to add to the existing high-density housing in Yardley, an historic parish that can trace its history to the Domesday Book. The playing fields themselves are on the edge of the oldest Conservation Area in Birmingham. Are we protecting our green spaces or not?

“Residents have already been expending considerable time and money in developing our own plans for Barrows Lane playing fields with the help of grants and other funding to secure their future along sporting, health and nature lines.”