Feelings run high amid fight to save popular housing stock

Members of the Save Bertie Park campaign say the new Hinksey Playground on Bertie Place – known locally as Bertie Park – is a “lifeline” for families who live in nearby apartments.

Oxford City Council will table plans to build 31 new homes on the Abingdon Road site at the end of April.

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This means the public play area will be reduced in size and although a nature trail is proposed for an area known as Cold Harbor behind Wytham Street, parents say the site is overgrown and ‘dangerous “.

If the application is approved, the council said development work could begin in late 2023.

Save Bertie Park campaign organizer Kaddy Beck said: “The new play area will be less than half the current size and will be 5 meters from the apartment kitchen windows.

“The town hall won’t let us know how many playground equipment they can install – so the youngsters weren’t really involved in the meaningful choices. One of them wanted a zip line. If they installed a zip line, there will be no room for anything else.

“The multipurpose play area will be 4m shorter and will not have enough space for proper end zones. There will be little or no space for free play.

“The advice from the government is that councils should not build on recreational land unless it is replaced by equivalent or better provision in a suitable location.

“People in this neighborhood don’t understand why they are losing 80% of their recreational land. We need social housing, but we also need equipment.

The group recently carried out an investigation, knocking on every door in North Hinksey.

Ms Beck said: “We had an incredible response – 868 people from nearly 500 households responded. The survey shows sentiments are running high.

“The town hall architect says it is now designed for children aged 0-6 within a minute’s walk. The new multipurpose playground will be at least 4 meters shorter and it won’t there will be no green space for children to run around in.”

Of those surveyed, 598 people said they had used the park; 110 said they needed the park while only 17 said it was barely used/built housing.

Comments from people under 18 included: “With the current state of the park, I have room to run around with a soccer ball without worrying about breaking a window.”

Meanwhile, a parent described the proposed replacement as ‘a significant loss for the children of South Oxford, and our advisers should be ashamed of themselves for proposing and supporting it’.

One respondent said that although there are “problems with the current set-up of Bertie Park (drug dealing, tired equipment and occasional invasions of the traveling community), the council should … develop Bertie Park into a better park”.

Councilor Alex Hollingsworth, a cabinet member for housing planning and delivery, reiterated that there were 3,000 families in Oxford on the council’s waiting list for a home.

He said: “The proposed development at Bertie Place will consist of 22 social housing units let at genuinely affordable social rent – ​​around 40% of equivalent private rent – ​​and nine sold as condominiums. Condominium helps people access the ownership ladder in a city they would otherwise be excluded from.”

He said there had been community consultation, including a drop-in event for children and teens in February, to better understand what they would like to see at the new recreation ground.

He added: “While details have not been finalized, OX Place will provide a new play area and MUGA, the play area being more geared towards the needs of young children than the current recreation ground.

“This will complement the playgrounds and football pitch at Hinksey Park, which is less than 15 minutes’ walk away for older children and teenagers.”

According to the council, the proposed new playground will be 7.7% smaller than the existing area and the proposed MUGA is 25m long, which is a typical length.

And while there will be windows five meters away, they are gable windows and the nearest kitchen windows will be at least 11 meters away.

He said that during the community consultation in November, OX Place shared a sketch of proposals for the new playground that showed four elements, but that was just to highlight where the playground would be.

A final detailed design for the playground has yet to be determined.

Mr Hollingsworth added: ‘Local residents will have the opportunity to comment in detail on the proposals once OX Place submits a planning application.’

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