Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Why Can't Oxford Save Stansfeld Outdoor Education Centre?

Nobody in Headington wants to lose Stansfeld Outdoor Education Centre, on the edge of Quarry, where I live. Its seventeen acres  include woodland, marshland and several ponds. The centre is used by local schools, scouts, guides and visitors from elsewhere, giving children a chance to do live field study. The site is a place where wildlife can find a refuge from our urbanized world, a habitat for birds, butterflies, frogs, bees, dragonflies and water-beetles.

 I remember how inspirational field study was for me at the age of ten, when my class was taken for day-long walks in Epping Forest, such a welcome change from the classroom. We learned the names of wild flowers  - gypsywort, purple loosestrife, and rosebay willow-herb. It's very important for a child to grow up knowing what real flowers look like, NOT those hideous bright red tulips like lollipops on sticks.  We were taught how to identify safe mushrooms. Stansfeld provides a nature reserve, a green corridor from the built-up area of Headington out towards Shotover.

It also provides a training ground for Oxford Conservation Volunteers, who practice doing things like hedgelaying and coppicing at Stansfeld. And outdoor education is now recognized a valuable resource for helping children with conditions on the autism spectrum. It encourages general personal development in ways that classroom education never can.
Unfortunately the Stansfeld Centre is owned by Birmingham City Council which is closing it down on 31st July this year. They say that it is running at a loss of £1 million per year and needs £4.1 million spent on repairs. But other sources say that it lost  - that is to say cost  - only £100,000 last year, and that is mainly owing to the economic downturn, as fewer schools and parties are booking to use the premises, which do need some refurbishment in the long run.

The Friends of Quarry have held an urgent Public Meeting ... the LibDem councillors have all flapped and posed for the cameras to Save Stansfeld and launched petitions online, but that will have little impact. There has been an Official Consultation, which always guarantees nothing will happen, and there was even talk about local community groups trying to buy it.

The ridiculous thing is that the land is valued at only £375,000. This is because it is designated as agricultural land, not as a development site. So why can't Oxford City Council stump up £375,000, the price of a semi-detached house in most areas within the ring road, and keep the Centre for future generations?
What this boils down to is that Oxford City Council, which is spending £7.5 million for a grand new swimming-pool at Blackbird Leys, has not got a contingency fund of £375,000 set aside for pressing needs like this, or is simply not willing to find the money. That is disgraceful. This problem should have been foreseen. Stansfeld has always been owned by Birmingham City Council and the Oxford Council should have predicted that one day this anomalous situation would have to be resolved.
The upshot will probably be that somebody snaps up the land for £375,000 and then gets permission to build houses on all or part of it. That would fit in nicely with the City and the County's plans to squash 160,000 new homes into Oxfordshire. They are probably glad that the closure of Stansfeld gives them a chance to further this build-over-everything plan for Britain.

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