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In these unprecedented times, we have seen just how important green spaces and nature are to our health and wellbeing. It feels hard to connect with terms like "biodiversity" and "ecological assessment”, which is an irony given that we are all deeply connected to the web of life around us. 

The simple fact is that nature governs everything; from the food that we put in our mouths to the security of our jobs and health of our families and communities. If nature thrives, we thrive by way of the social and economic benefits enjoyed.

Sadly, the fact is that nature is not thriving in the UK and ours is one of the most nature-depleted countries on earth.

There are, however, three reasons to have hope:

1. The Nature Friendly Farming Movement is gathering pace across UK farmland, which makes up around 70% of our total land area. 

2. There is something that we can all do to create thriving local communities. In fact our followers and supporters worked together to create 100 Actions4Nature that will make a difference.

3. There is a process in which everyone can get involved to create a shared vision of thriving local communities and economies, where people live in harmony with the rest of the natural world around them. "Economy" is another difficult term to connect with, but it literally means looking after your home!

So what is this powerful process that brings decision makers and residents together and has the potential to transform communities by delivering widespread abundance, happiness, prosperity and wellbeing? It's called the Local Plan; another term that is uninspiring and difficult to connect with, but it does what it says on the tin and almost mirrors the literal meaning of the term "economy".

The government has set a deadline of December 2023 for all councils to have up-to-date Local Plans in place. Every Local Plan includes public consultations, offering a massive opportunity to build magnificent neighbourhoods to be proud of.

For your Local Plan to realise its full potential, it needs you and your family, friends and neighbours to get involved. If you don't, then it will be shaped by politicians, land owners and developers, rather than the people it's meant to serve.

We have launched the Plans4Nature campaign to encourage everyone to get involved in their own Local Plan consultations, whilst following the fortunes of one local group as they set out to shape the future of their community, whilst protecting their much-loved green space.

Planning terms are often hard to connect with and planning processes often long and complex, almost as if designed to put people off getting involved, so we have made our Plans4Nature case study and tips as easy to follow as possible. We are presenting the case study as a story with chapters and each chapter will include tips to help you get involved in your own Local Plan.

Berryhill Fields, Stoke-on-Trent Case Study - Chapter 1: Grassroots and Jumping Hoops

The chances are that if you care about something in your neighbourhood, someone else does too. Never feel alone, never feel powerless and always believe that you can make a difference!

The Save Berryhill Fields Action Group (SBFAG) started with people caring about something and then talking about it with others. This simple grassroots action led to the creation of an action group. In turn, that then led to hundreds of people coming together to talk about the issue and organise themselves. The important thing to remember is that it all started with individuals caring and then taking to others.

Land is labelled, allocated, traded and developed, with little regard for its true value as a community asset or in terms of its richness in wildlife. Planning processes can be very cold; it needs passionate people and their communities to warm them up! The communities of Adderley Green, Bentilee, Berryhill, Bucknall, Eaton Park, Fenton, Fenpark, Joiners Square, Moss Green and Saxonfields gain health, wellbeing and a range of other benefits from a connection with nature in an area known to them as "Berryhill Fields". The West Midland Bird Club recognises and values Berryhill Fields not only as an important green space public amenity (often described by the local community as “the lungs of the city”), but also as being very important for birds and other wildlife at regional level. Local residents and visitors attracted to the site have recorded 167 bird species including many of high conservation concern.

Berryhill Fields Area 292

The planning process has labelled this much-loved location as "Area 292" and declared it "available now" for development. Given that such a valuable community asset is at risk it is alarming that the first Stoke-on-Trent Local Plan consultation period ends on Monday 21st June having largely slipped under the radar of local communities. We visited Berryhill Fields last weekend and, despite the best efforts of SBFAG, no one that we spoke to was aware of the Local Plan consultation or the fact that Berryhill Fields was at risk. Nobody has been able to establish how the Local Plan consultation has been advertised in accordance with the council's own Statement of Community Involvement. Matters have been further confused by the fact that official announcements had been made last year declaring Berryhill Fields as not being viable for development and yet the site remains available for housing. 

We therefore present the following actions that you can take to make a difference:

If you live outside Stoke-on-Trent

1. Make enquiries to find out what stage your own council's Local Plan is at. Make a note of the timetable for consultations and register your interest in the Local Plan so that you receive updates.

2. Find out more about your local greenspaces and talk to others about the issues that are important so that you can gather support, get organised and make your feelings known during the next consultation period.

3. If you feel like you are having to jump through hoops to find out what is going on regarding your Local Plan, contact your council and ask them to send you a copy of their Statement of Community Involvement.

4. There will be a UK petition launched soon to demonstrate the level of national interest in protecting Berryhill Fields. Keep an eye out for it, either by searching #SaveBerryhillFields on social media or by contacting SBFAG.

If you live in Stoke-on-Trent or have an interest in saving Berryhill Fields

1. You can find the Local Plan here.

2. You can register with the council to receive updates regarding the local plan here.

3. You only have until Monday 21st June 2021 to submit your comments regarding the local plan here. The latest SBFAG newletter includes a guide to help you jump through the hoops of the consultation process. To help save Berryhill Fields let the council know that you want greenspaces of high value in terms of public benefits and wildlife like Berryhill Fields protected under the local plan.

4. Join SBFAG by sending an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to receive updates regarding Berryhill Fields and notice of meetings and consultations.

Thank you for taking time to read this article and chapter 1 of the case-study. This story will continue to unfold between now and December 2023.

Remember, you really do have the power to create positive change in your neighbourhood, so start getting involved now!

 

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