A few thoughts on open spaces…

A reader asks on Facebook if I could write about the threat to open green spaces. I don’t usually do requests, but here goes.

What follows is inspired partly by a campaign to save playing fields in York, but other thoughts will be reflected in that glass.

Yesterday’s musings on why I won’t be dumping the Guardian brought many comments on Facebook, some in agreement and some not. One comment from a campaign group hoping to save Windmill Lane playing fields said the Guardian should be dumped because the paper’s reporters, letters editor and columnists had ignored all the group’s press releases. Perhaps they were just too busy disparaging Jeremy Corbyn.

Newspapers have open spaces too, and items line up in competition to fill those spaces. A common frustration arises when readers feel their concerns are not being addressed – whether it’s the true nature of their preferred political leader or the threat to a treasured open space. The papers have an in-built ability to disappoint on that score, whereas the wide-open spaces of the internet allow people to express themselves freely or advance their chosen cause at length (often slagging off those in the ‘mainstream media’, to use that favourite Trumpian insult).

I would imagine that the Guardian, along with other national newspapers, habitually disappoints those who send press releases about local issues. The paper also, I can tell you, habitually disappoints locally based freelances who submit comment pieces and other ideas, but never mind.

To the playing fields, then. I don’t know that side of York well, but do know the whereabouts of the threatened green space. York St John University wants to build houses on the land and has offered use of its playing fields – about three miles away on the opposite side of town, which doesn’t sound like thoughtful compensation for the loss. Members of all political parties have lent a hand in the campaign, and Labour MP Rachael Maskell joined a protest march

I am not sure if the support of one man on a ledge counts for anything, but here it is. Better to see open green spaces used by the local community rather than build houses most people in the area will not be able to afford. A planning meeting on Thursday will decide the issue.

Outside of York at Green Hammerton, developers want to build 2,700 homes on open green fields – a small town or a new village at the very least. The locals there are campaigning too, and who can blame them. This proposal is huge and nowhere near Harrogate, which perhaps is why which Harrogate Borough Council reportedly wishes to approve the development.

These things are never easy. We live on the outskirts of York in a house built in 1926, when there were fields all around and a minor road threading its way out of town. Now there is a busy ring-road half a mile away and a large council estate on those open fields, although remaining fields can be seen in the distance.

It would be lovely if someone turned back the clock to make our life peaceful, but obviously that can’t happen.

Here are two personal anecdotes about open spaces. When I was a boy we lived in a cul-de-sac in Cheadle Hulme (not Manchester, as I sometimes say, hoping to sound cooler than I am). The ‘sack’ was an open space known to children in the road as “the Mud”. After a while, the developers took back the playing space and built more link-detached houses, so the space was lost.

On my father’s side, our grandparents had use of a holiday bungalow on the south coast. This faced open an space, until more bungalows were planned. At night, the grownups – including my father, possibly led by my father – went out and removed the sticks marking the new plots. Mischievous fun was had, but the new holiday homes went up anyway.

That’s often the way when you try to defend an open green space, but perhaps the Windmill Lane protesters will have better luck. And you can’t fault them for trying.

And that is what the open green spaces of my mind came up with today.

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