Council rejects claims it is 'privatising' parkland owned by the people of Sheffield

Graves park in Sheffield (Photo: Google Earth)
Graves park in Sheffield (Photo: Google Earth)

The Friends of Graves Park (FOGP) have voiced concerns over the 25-year plan for the tennis courts in nine Sheffield parks, as well as creating a controversial multi-activity hub in Hillsborough Park, which has been opposed by the Friends of Hillsborough Park. FOGP said the deal “privatises all this parkland for 25 years, parkland that was given to the citizens of Sheffield, supposedly in perpetuity”.

The chair of the council’s parks committee said they are not selling off those areas and said the city parks and buildings in them belong to the people of Sheffield. He said the leasing plan extends a partnership between the council, the Lawn Tennis Association and Courtside Community Interest Company that will see big improvements to tennis facilities.

A statement from FOGP group chair Caroline Dewar said: “One of these parks is Graves Park. And 25 years is very significant to the Friends of Graves Park, because 25 years ago the local people stopped Sheffield City Council (SCC) selling off the Norton Nurseries site for a housing estate.

“It was a hard, unpleasant battle, during which SCC officers denied this was part of Graves Park at all, denied that it was charitable land and argued for its disposal, particularly as they claimed it was ‘derelict and surplus to requirements’.

“When the battle was won by the citizens, when the Charity Commission finally accepted that it was charitable parkland and when the council finally agreed that it had to be returned to parkland, the local people, who called themselves the Hands off Graves Park group, thought the battle was won.

“How wrong we were. When the council said it could take up to 15 years to restore the site, we were somewhat dismayed. If we had known that we would still be fighting to restore all the land 25 years later, that the council would have tried to sell it off again in 2009 (despite the first restored section, Chantreyland Meadow, having been restored by FOGP and opened to the public in 2006) and then when that failed, from about 2015 start using it as a council depot and collection site for rubbish and dog excrement from parks and open spaces across the city (despite the second section of FOGP’s restoration, Chantreyland Arboretum, opening in 2016), well, perhaps we would have been more wary of accepting council promises at face value.

“In 25 years people may well have forgotten what happened and if they haven’t, the council will say “this was over 20 years ago and no longer applies”.”

Coun Richard Williams, chair of the council’s communities, parks and leisure committee, said: “We want to be clear with our residents that we are not selling off park land – our parks and the buildings in them belong to the people of Sheffield. Our plan for the future is to find ways to provide and maintain the best parks and facilities for the long term.

“The tennis court area in Graves Park and all of our parks will remain in the ownership of the council and continue to be available for the public to enjoy.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​