Mansfield Open Space

Dartmouth Park Conservation Area Advisory Committee (DPCAAC) published its submission on the planning application for Mansfield Open Space / Mansfield Green Space.

The land here formed part of the huge estate of the Burdett-Coutts family and is part of what has become known as the Burdett-Coutts legacy.  This also included the land for Highgate Library, the school which is now Highgate Newtown Community Centre, Brookfield School and land for homes for WW1 ‘heroes’.  The grant of the land was primarily for use for outdoor leisure activity, including tennis and bowls.  Sadly, and in contrast to the Library land, this intent wasn’t enforced via the Deeds as effectively as it obviously should have been.  In their ruthless attempt to get planning permission, the beautiful outdoor green has been abandoned and an attempt is being made to evict the tennis players who have been a key users of the site for better than one hundred years.

Open space circa 1913 marked in blue green.  This end of Croftdown Road hadn’t been built yet.  Regency Lawn was built to the left (north) of the footpath.  The southern end (off York Rise) of the historic footpath was unlawfully blocked and the northern end interrupted notwithstanding the additional protection it has from covenants which run with the land.  At this time the site was open at the intersections of Croftdown and York Rise and Brookfield Park. The building which was then a school is now the Community Centre.

The Coutts estate from the south-east, c.1903. The photograph must have been taken from the top of a house in Dartmouth Park Avenue. In the foreground are Miss Coutts’ allotments and tennis courts, bounded by a fence along the ancient track. Beyond, on the left is the Brookfield Stud, above it the church of St Anne’s Brookfield. To the right, a glimpse of roofs in Holly Village, and beyond are the extensive grounds of Holly Lodge. The house itself is not visible. Photograph from Camden History Society.

By the mid-1930s most of the area previously devoted to allotments had post ww1 housing whilst retaining at least some of the open aspect of the site. The remaining open space, still open to York Rise and the extended Croftdown Road, remained, with the exception of the modest club house, devoted to outdoor leisure activities, particularly tennis. The start of the historic path is here still visible, as, indeed, it is on all OS plans until a year or so ago.

A club house was built in 1911

In the 1970s approaching two thirds of the open space was lost to buildings and tarmac for parking.  About a third of this was lost to speculative housing development of fifteen houses.  Then, as now, and with about the same level of credibility, this very substantial speculative private housing development was said to be merely ‘enabling’.  The bulky then new MBC building and its associated tarmacked car parking was the bauble offered for allowing the fifteen house speculative development.  At the time, of course, no serious attempt was made to suggest this represented a community gain. The speculative housing development cut the site off from the public realm.  This set the tone for the running of the club for the next/last forty years, inward looking, with no serious attempt being made to ensure its operational viability or even to maintain the building.

A mere forty years since it was built, the building is now said to need massive refurbishment.  Again, permission is sought for a very substantial speculative housing development, this time eight four story (inc basement) luxury houses with associated private gardens, private roads and private parking in what is effectively a gated estate, to ‘enable’ this refurbishment.  If allowed the development would result in the effective loss of what remains of the open space.  Having pretty much abandoned the argument that the only way to prevent to open space from becoming derelict is to build over it, never much of an argument anyway, the developers now favour offering a ‘community gain’, a space in the refurbished building for a commercially run gym and carpet sized square of open space.  As baubles go, it is pretty thin.  The speculative luxury development and the resulting loss of open space simply doesn’t begin to be a proportionate response to the difficulties MBC have got into.  If MBC were seeking permission to develop and sell, say, one or two leasehold flats within the footprint of the ‘club house’, presumably plan B, there might be some sort planning argument for the proposal, not much of one but at least arguable.

The key problem for the speculators is that the community has repeatedly decided the loss of open space here had gone far enough.  After the 1970s development, the Council, informed by extensive public consultation, decided the remaining open space should be protected and it was designated in the UDP as open space.  In 2010 this designation was reaffirmed in the current statutory structure plan, the LDF, again after extensive consultation and after an Inquiry led by a Government Inspector. The effect of this designation was set out for the developers in pre-application advice.  The LDF couldn’t be clearer – see this extract from that advice.

The site has also been the subject of more intimate local consideration since the 1970s. Twenty one years ago this month the area was, after extensive consultation, designated as a Conservation Area.  The effect of this is that the Council is under a legal duty to do all it can to preserve and enhance the character of the Conservation Area. After a long period of gestation, much local discussion and a long period of consultation, the Council adopted detailed guidance for the Conservation Area, including the Mansfield site, in January 2009. Again, this guidance is set out fairly fully in the Council’s pre-application advice to the developer:

Brief history of Mansfield open space

The land was originally owned by Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts’.  Her ‘country’ home, Holly Lodge, was nearby.  It was part of a substantial area she had made available to the local community for outdoor sporting and recreational use. 

Croftdown Road hadn’t then been extended to the north east of Brookfield Park.  There was an ancient footpath, an extension of College Lane/Grove End/Grove Terrace.

Much of this larger site was turned over to allotments provided by the Baroness in 1876. 

South of the allotments was a tennis club with a pavilion built in 1885 by the firm of Cook.  At some point soon after bowling and croquet were added to the repertoire.

When at Holly Lodge, Baroness Burdett-Coutts

generally came downstairs in the afternoon, and, if fine, she would be drawn about the grounds in her bath-chair by a fat old pony, and watch the games of tennis, bowls or croquet that might be in progress.”

Angela Burdett-Coutts and the Victorians, 1953, Clara Burdett Patterson, John Murray (Publishers) Ltd

Tennis was very much the thing early in the 20th century.  The tennis club was the social hub of many of the better off young of Dartmouth Park.

A school, now part of the Highgate Newtown Community Centre, adjoined the allotments.

The Baroness died in 1906.  Her widower decided to close the allotments in 1913 and the bulk of that part of the site was later made available for the rural-style cottages now on that part of the site.

A few years later ownership of the remaining area was conveyed to the Mansfield Bowling Club (1920) Ltd by the Baroness’s widower.  The exact intended relationship with the tennis club isn’t clear but the objectives in Articles of the company include both tennis and croquet.  In contrast to those relating to the Library, the covenants which still run with the land are somewhat vague but the broad thrust was that it would mostly continue to be used for sport and recreation.

At this point the still substantial open space had an open frontage at the end of York Rise and along the now extended Croftdown Road.  There was bowling green and the courts of the Kenlyn Lawn Tennis Club

At the end of the 1960s and into the 1970s, planning permission was obtained for a speculative housing development along the York Rise and Croftdown Road frontages, now known as Regency Lawn.

The open space took on its present enclosed form.  Some of profits from this development were used to replace the club house with the present somewhat unfortunate club house and an indoor bowling area. 

Much of the open space to the north west and west of this huge building was tarmacked over to provide a vast area for car parking although a single tennis court remained at the edge of the site behind the houses and what was originally a parish hall (now the Nursery) in York Rise.  This tennis court has now disappeared.

Some while after Regency Lawn was built, the exact date isn’t known, the first part of the historic footpath, the bit between York Rise and the Regency Lawn houses was unlawfully stopped-up.

The remaining non-tarmacked open space continued in its outdoor sporting and recreation role. There is also a small area of allotments.

Twenty one years ago, following extensive public consultation, Dartmouth Park was designated a Conservation Area.  Following further public consultation, the club house and indoor bowling area apart, the land was designated as private open space in the then Local Development Plan, a designation intended to preclude further erosion/loss of open space.  In early 2009, following an extended public consultation, this designation was reinforced by the adoption of the Council of the DPCAAMS.

A few years ago permission was given for the temporary use of the car parking to the west of the club house for works base.  The permission was accompanied by assurances that no precedent was being set and promises that the income would be devoted to the enhancement of the tennis etc facilities.

Particularly in recent years, the bowling club has become introverted and saw a steady decline in membership.  Indeed, judging by what has been claimed in the recent planning application, the building has seen very little maintenance since it was built forty years ago.

In November 2010 the LDF replaced the Local Development Plan following numerous consultation exercises and Government Inspector led Inquiries.  The LDF continued the open space designation.  The implications of policy of the Council is explained at para 15.6:

We will not allow development on these open spaces unless it is for limited development ancillary to a use taking place on the land and for which there is a demonstrable need. Extensions and alterations to existing buildings on open space should be proportionate to the size, including the volume, of the original building. We will only allow development on sites adjacent to an open space that respects the size, form and use of that open space and does not cause harm to its whole, appearance or setting, or harm public enjoyment of the space. We will take into account the cumulative impacts of development where appropriate. The poor quality of an open space will generally not be accepted as a reason for its partial development to fund improvements as, once built on, open space is lost to the community for ever”

As the National Planning Policy Framework reminds us, planning law, specifically Section 38 (6) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 and Section 70 (2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, requires that applications for planning permission must be determined in accordance with the LDF unless material conditions indicate otherwise.

Recently, in preparation for the present planning application, the company ended all use of the outdoor bowling green.  Too late since the green remains in relatively good condition notwithstanding the Club’s refusal to allow volunteers to maintain it.

Even more recently, the landowners began their attempt to evict the Kenlyn Lawn Tennis Club after something like a hundred years.

If successful, the eviction would bring to an end better than a hundred and twenty years of use of the land for the outdoor sports and recreation Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts had made possible.

The proposed development would replace almost all of the open space not previously tarmacked with eight four story houses, private gardens, private roads and private parking.