Cranfield Skatepark

Existing site could be dismantled before the school summer holidays

The long-awaited skatepark in Cranfield has been hit with further delays. The skatepark has been completed at Kings Grove, but it has remained fenced off while residents, Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) and the developers worked through various issues.

The area has attracted some antisocial behaviour as skateboarders made attempts to use the equipment. During a telephone meeting with CBC, Cranfield Park residents were told that the skatepark could be dismantled by the school summer holidays.

One of the issues with the skatepark was the planning permission, which CBC said was given incorrectly. A spokesperson for CBC said:

“We recognise that a mistake was made when we gave the go ahead to build the skatepark in the current location on the Cranfield Park development.

“We should have checked that the developer had assessed the noise levels of the skate park, before approving it.

“We are working with the developer, Parish Council and residents of the development to explore the potential of an alternative location nearby, which we believe to be a better site for the facility.”

The preferred new location for the skatepark is on land referred to as Bloor Homes Phase Two (CB/17/01042/OUT). CBC said:

“A planning application will be required before any decision is made, this will take into account the views of residents and local representatives.”

If the skatepark does become part of the public amenity space for that development, the Council will use a Section 106 (S106) agreement to ensure it is managed and maintained.

A S106 agreement is a legal agreement between an applicant seeking planning permission and the local planning authority. They are used to mitigate the impact of a new development on the local community and infrastructure.

The agreement can be drafted by a council or the developer, but the key issue is that all parties must agree to the content.

Examples include financial contributions to local schools and providing public amenities.

The wording of the S106 agreement for the public amenities in Cranfield Park has led to differences in its interpretation between the residents on the development and CBC. This S106 agreement was drafted and later signed by Central Bedfordshire Council and the applicant, Gladman. The land was later sold to Bloor Homes, and the agreement transferred with the land.

The disputed clause says:

“The play areas and landscaped areas should not be used for any purpose other than as areas for use by the residents of the development unless otherwise agreed in writing by the council.”

Cranfield Park residents sought legal advice to understand this S106 clause. The legal advice they were given said the S106 reads correctly as “residents only facility”. The residents argued that this could not be enforced, and agreed the facility is needed within the village and should be for the community in a more suitable location.

Last year, a CBC planning enforcement officer in an email to residents also said that the clause highlighted that the park “can only be used for residents“. In another email a CBC officer said that the view from the council’s solicitor is that “the obligation, as it is written is not enforceable.”

Another officer said that in his view the clause does not accord with the “concepts of community cohesion and inclusivity“.

When asked why CBC agreed with this S106 if it did not follow the concepts of community cohesion and inclusivity, a spokesperson said that this was the wrong interpretation of the clause. They said:

“The allotments [at Cranfield Park] and skate park were intended to be of use by and for the benefit of the whole community.

“There is a clause in the legal agreement that residents have interpreted one way and CBC interprets a different way.

“The clause seeks for the land to be used as community open space, and not for any other purpose (i.e. for the building of houses); it does not restrict public access and use.

“The reason we are confident that our interpretation is correct is that it would not have been legitimate to use a S106 agreement to provide a facility for private use only.

“The lack of clarity was not identified as a problem by any of the parties to the S106. But we recognise that way it was drafted has caused concern and unfounded expectations amongst some residents.

“The alternative interpretation of the clause would have been contrary to our policies and would not have accorded ‘with the concepts of community cohesion and inclusivity’.”

When pressed on why council officers appeared to agree with the residents’ interpretation that the areas are for Cranfield Park residents use only, its spokesperson said:

“The Council’s position has not changed. Not all the information was available when our enforcement officer was asked, but otherwise, the responses are correct. We have since conducted a detailed investigation and commissioned specialist legal advice.

“As such, we were able to write to residents last December to clarify the position in detail and it has not changed.”

CBC said that the new site is a separate planning application and will have a separate S106 agreement, so will not include the disputed clause.

The public facilities built on new developments are sometimes maintained by homeowners paying an annual fee. For example, the playground opposite the school in Braeburn Way is maintained in this way. Its upkeep is not the responsibility of Cranfield Parish Council or CBC.

The skatepark maintenance is to be funded by an annual fee to homeowners. Residents said that CBC confirmed in a published account that the skatepark in Biggleswade cost it £26,000 in maintenance over a short period of time. They said they shouldn’t be impacted by large costs, particularly as the facility should never have received planning permission.

They added that they were told that due to the council’s error in approving the planning for the skatepark, CBC would be contributing to the costs for ten years once the skatepark has been installed at its new location. However, CBC said that how these costs are met is down to the developer and that it is not involved in the maintenance arrangements or costs. CBC said:

“We do not expect that the ownership or management of the facility will transfer to either local council but will remain with a residents’ Management Company. This is the same arrangement as for the present location.”

Existing Cranfield Park residents believe that these costs will be passed solely onto the owners of the 78 homes in Phase Two. 

Cranfield Parish Council said:

“CBC has sought the views of the Parish Council on the alternative site, however the relocation of the skatepark, the costs of relocation and ongoing maintenance and the content of the S106 agreement are outside the remit of the Parish Council and remain the responsibility of CBC and Bloor.

“The Parish Council did discuss the proposed location of the skatepark at their meeting on the 21 April 2021 and had no objection.”

A spokesperson for Gladman said that the company does not comment on such matters. Bloor has been approached for a comment but did not respond by the time of publication.