FIERCE OPPOSITION: New homes on the site of an historic playing field
This is what the school's new sports centre could look like, Image: The Birkenhead School
Plans to build new homes on the site of an historic playing field face fierce opposition from local residents.
Birkenhead School, an independent school on Beresford Road in Oxton, Wirral, wants to sell-off Noctorum Field and gain planning permission for up to 33 homes on the site.
The plan has been submitted to Wirral Council along with a proposal to upgrade the school’s existing sports hall and build an additional multi-purpose sports facility at its Bidston Road campus, featuring rooms for fitness activities, meetings and events.
Paul Vicars, the school’s headmaster, said the school’s plans will mean Noctorum Field has a lasting legacy by unlocking substantial investment that will improve the local sports facilities and educational opportunities on offer for young people from across the Wirral.
But a petition against the application, organised by the Noctorum Ridge Residents Association (NRRA), has attracted more than 1,600 signatures.
As well as this, 440 people have registered their opposition to the plans on Wirral Council’s website, with 166 saying they are in favour of the project.
The residents association wants Birkenhead School to use the COP 26 summit, the major climate conference bringing together world leaders, as the moment to rethink plans which it claims will “destroy an historic playing field which forms the heart of a green oasis within their neighbourhood”.
Noctorum Field is also of historic interest, as it is listed by the Imperial War Museum as a site of war memorial dedicated to the lives of former school sports players who lost their lives in the Second World War.
Carmel Nolan, NRRA co-chair, said: “The Prime Minister’s message to COP 26 in Glasgow is that we are one minute to midnight when it comes to preventing climate catastrophe. So this is no time to be letting go of long established green spaces here.
“We hope Birkenhead School will use the COP 26 fortnight as the right moment to rethink their anti-green, anti climate change behaviour.
“The little amount of support they have managed to drum up for their planning application, shows the school’s management is operating against the grain of parents, pupils and old boys’ wishes.”
Ms Nolan called on the school to withdraw its application.
She added: “We would be delighted if the school had a change of heart. We would be happy to work with them going forward on a green business model that can sustain and enhance our long-established and long shared green neighbourhood for the benefit of the environment and to retain children’s opportunities to play outdoor sport and have designated outdoor classroom space.
“We hope Birkenhead School’s management heed the warnings from COP 26 this week and show climate leadership locally by withdrawing their plans to concrete over this green jewel.”
Cllr Gill Wood, who represents Claughton for Labour on Wirral Council, said: “The need for climate change behaviour is an emergency. There is much that corporations and governments need to do to change. But climate change behaviour also starts on our own doorstep.
“It is heartening to see so many residents in our ward are not just climate change literate but are grassroots climate change leaders.
“Their determination to protect our shared green Noctorum and Claughton spaces is a fine example of how to make climate change happen on our own doorstep.
“I will present this petition [called] ‘Save Noctorum Playing Field From Development’ to the full council meeting next month.”
Mr Vicars, the school’s headmaster, said: “Birkenhead School takes its responsibility to the environment seriously. Our proposals for Noctorum Field would actually increase net-biodiversity on the site by around 19% alongside the provision of much-needed environmentally sustainable homes for local families.
“Noctorum Field, which has been underused for at least two decades, has the potential to provide Birkenhead School with a lasting legacy by unlocking substantial investment that will improve the local sports facilities and educational opportunities on offer for young people from across the Wirral.
“The school has always taken great pride in the strength of its own community and the role it plays within the wider Wirral community.”
Mr Vicars added: “Whilst we acknowledge the strength of feeling from some of our neighbours towards Noctorum Field, hundreds of people, including parents, pupils and our alumni, both boys and girls, have expressed their support for our planning applications to Wirral Council – precisely because they are excited by the opportunities they represent for the local community.
“These opportunities include outstanding new sports facilities, especially for health-related fitness activities and netball, funds for truly transformational bursaries for local children, and significant investment in Old Parkonians and Prenton Rugby Clubs.
“Without the sale of Noctorum Field with planning permission for residential use, neither the net-biodiversity gain nor the investment in the future of Wirral’s young people will be realised.”
Words: George Morgan, Local Democracy Reporter
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