Jon Dale, Mansfield Socialist Party
The proposed closure of Berry Hill Park in Mansfield has led to a storm of protest. Around 300 turned out at a few days’ notice to demonstrate. 7,000 have signed an online petition in under a fortnight.
The park, with its running track, football pitches and beautiful open spaces, is a vital service for the whole town, as well as hosting regional and national events.
Berry Hill Park is privately owned and run by a charitable trust, Berry Hill Social Welfare Centre. Its three trustees are ex-miners nominated by the breakaway ‘Union of Democratic Mineworkers’.
The UDM emerged after the 1984-85 miners’ strike, when most Nottinghamshire branch officials for the National Union of Mineworkers encouraged their members to work through the strike.
A small part of the park is leased by the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation (CISWO) – a charity set up before coal nationalisation through a levy on coalmine owners. After nationalisation, miners contributed weekly deductions from their wages to CISWO, until the last (reprivatised) pits closed.
The park needs its facilities repaired and maintained, but the Berry Hill Social Welfare Centre is not getting enough income for this.
The Berry Hill Social Welfare Centre trustees wanted to sell the piece of land that CISWO leases in order to build houses in an area where prices are high. Mansfield District Council’s planning committee rejected the planning application in October.
The builder had agreed £450,000 to buy the land. Of that, £190,000 was to go to the leaseholder, CISWO, for giving up its long-term lease. A further £70,000 would go on repayments for money lent to Berry Hill Social Welfare Centre in recent years to maintain the park.
The park trustees, Berry Hill Social Welfare Centre, would not have received the balance of the builder’s payment directly, as under its constitution this would have to be paid to the bought-out leaseholder, CISWO.
CISWO was intending to set aside £50,000 for contingencies, and would then take applications from Berry Hill Social Welfare Centre to pay for a schedule of works out of the remainder. So the money would go to CISWO, and could only be used for work on the park.
Mansfield Socialist Party says the council should take the park over, as the trustees offered early this year. The council, controlled by ‘independents’, has not offered the £235,000 estimated to be needed for immediate park repairs, and had not agreed the deal.
Under pressure from the protests, the ‘independent’ mayor is meeting the Berry Hill Social Welfare Centre trustees on 22 November.
Selling off parcels of land for building, as was unfortunately supported by some Labour councillors on the planning committee, is no answer. The council should use its reserves and borrowing powers to fully fund park maintenance and all local services, while building a campaign to win the needed money from the government.
This park is used by former miners, their families and the community suffering from the loss of its mining industry. Successive governments have taken £3.5 billion from the miners’ pension scheme since British Coal privatisation in 1994. How could the government claim it doesn’t have the money?
- The last issue of the Socialist reported on the threatened closure of Berry Hill Park. After the Coal Industry Social Welfare Organisation contacted us, Mansfield Socialist Party has clarified its previous article with further information.