COMMUNITY PARK: Somerset town one step closer following council grant
A Somerset town is one step closer to getting a community park following a generous grant by the district council.
The Kirkham Street Field Community Trust is attempting to buy the playing fields on the north side of Kirkham Street in Somerton.
The trust has been campaigning since 2019 to secure the site as a communal green open space in light of the impending relocation of the town’s primary school to its new joint site.
South Somerset District Council has now brought this dream by granting £12,500 towards the campaign.
King Ina Church of England Academy is currently split over two sites in the town – the infants facility on Etsome Terrace, and the juniors provision on Kirkham Street.
Construction was recently completed on a new £7.3M joint site on Northfield, with all pupils expected to resume their studies there after the Easter holiday.
Once the move is completed, the playing fields on Kirkham Street will be surplus to requirement – and because they are listed as an asset of community value, locals can bid to buy the site before any commercial redevelopment moves forward.
The council’s area north committee considered a grant application for the trust when it met virtually on Wednesday afternoon (March 24).
Adrian Moore, the council’s locality officer, said in his written report: “The purchase of the whole field can take place once the field is declared redundant from its current use as a school playing field for £750,000 if the funds are available in 2021.
“Somerset County Council has agreed however, that the Kirkham Street Field Community Trust can purchase a third of the site for £250,000 if it cannot achieve the full £750,000 target.
“They also agreed that in the early months of 2021, whilst the necessary seeking of planning consent for change of use to community park on the field was being pursued, any further funds raised could go towards purchasing a larger proportion of the field.
“The community park is needed in Somerton as there is a current deficit of informal open space.”
The trust has already secured £25,000 from the town council, and is predicting it can raise a further £55,000 from promised donations (plus £10,000 in gift aid) on top of £30,000 already raised.
However, the trust unsuccessfully bid for £65,000 from the county council’s climate change emergency community fund – leaving them still way short of the sum needed to buy the first third of the field.
Councillor Dean Ruddle (whose Wessex ward includes Somerton) said: “It’s the only green space actually left in that part of the town – everything else has been built on.
“Yes, we have a recreation ground, but it’s way on the other side of the town, so this does make sense.
“I think it’s a great project, and I think we should show support to try and aid them to get it over the line.”
Councillor Adam Dance, who chairs the committee, said: “I think it’s great what the community are trying to do here, and it’s very disappointing that the county council hasn’t backed them up.”
The committee voted unanimously to approve the grant – though the money will not be released until the trust has secured all the remaining funds.
The new King Ina site will be able to accommodate 420 pupils and 52 early years children, with 14 classrooms, a pre-school, a school hall, a production kitchen, sports pitches and a multi-use games area (MUGA).
The site was originally due to be open by September 2020, but construction was delayed after archaeologists uncovered evidence of an Iron Age settlement.
Councillor Faye Purbrick, the county council’s cabinet member for education and transformation, said: “It is fantastic to see us delivering yet another excellent educational facility in Somerset that will be an asset to the community.
“I am pleased that not only have we been able to deliver an environmentally-friendly school, but we have also managed to reflect the site’s rich history with the unique roundhouse feature to support the children’s learning.”
Headteacher Suzie Svenson added: “Joining our pre-school, infant and junior schools together will create wonderful opportunities for partnership learning for the children and we are excited about the educational benefits of this merger.
“The children are bursting with excitement and we look forward to welcoming them to their new school after Easter.”
Words: Daniel Mumby, Local Democracy Reporter
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